2023 is finally upon us, and that means it’s time for the Club rugby season to get underway. A few games have already been played, and that will provide us with a good base to start this preview, but the majority are yet to be decided. In this article series we’ll dive into each division, how each team finished last year, and how they look for this year. Enjoy!
Women's Division 1
Two teams from the TRU are competing in this year’s Frontier/Red River crossover D1 competition, the sHARCs and the Austin Valkyries. The bracket is filled out with the Colorado Gray Wolves, Utah Vipers, and Denver Black Ice. Utah are already ineligible for playoffs due to an early season forfeit to Colorado, but will play the rest of their matches. Each team plays a home/away, with multiple teams doubling down on weekends and playing both a Saturday and Sunday match to save on travel.
The Austin Valkyries finished tied for third last year (the Dallas Harlequins replaced Utah in the 2021-22 season), with a 3-5 record; the same as Denver Black Ice. The Valkyries beat the Quins twice and Black Ice once at the start of the season. Austin are in a bit of a rebuilding year, many of the players who finished 2nd nationally in 2019 have moved cities or moved onto different paths in life. However Austin has a new head coach, new leadership board, and with the updates to the Austin facility – one of the best fields in the state. Hopefully this will start the ball rolling and propel Austin back to the top of their game.
The sHARCs are back in the hunt after narrowly missing the final four that represented at Club Nationals. The club has been growing steadily and now has a second side participating in the Women’s RRRC Division 2, providing an even larger player pool, and we all know that big clubs usually foster positive growth and success. Houston went 6-2 in regular season play, only losing twice to the Colorado Gray Wolves. The top two seeds from the Frontier/RRRC crossover played one final match, with that winner advancing to the USA Rugby National semi final on Championship weekend. This pitted Colorado against sHARCs one final time. Houston made the trip to Colorado, and truly put everything on the line with a heartbreaking 39-38 loss. But the past is in the past and this could very well be Houston’s year. Their first match is the classic Texas derby on February 4th as Austin hosts Houston; and we think the sHARCs will come out firing.
Men's Division 1
The Men’s Division 1 competition is stacked this year, with six big name teams competing to be the best. Rugby HTX officially joins, alongside the five returning clubs from last year – the Dallas Harlequins, Dallas Rugby, the Austin Blacks, the Austin Huns, and Grand Prairie. All clubs play a home and away, giving us 10 action packed weekends of rugby.
Rugby HTX are not technically newcomers, they played a full slate of matches last year, but this is the first year they are in the running for hardware. This means they will be required to follow all eligibility requirements as the rest of the USA Rugby clubs, including use of MLR players. With their matches all being friendlies last year, they posted mixed results – as the other D1 clubs they played weren’t required to follow roster requirements. Seeing how well the Sabercats performed in the MLR, we think Rugby HTX will be a strong contender for the top spot in 2023.
The Dallas Harlequins remain in the Men’s Division 1 after finishing 1-7 last season. They lost a number of their strongest players at the start of the season to MLR’s Dallas Jackals, and had a tough go against the other big clubs in the area. The Harlequins have a rich history though, and have attracted a number of new players to the club that are sure to turn up the heat. They have already played one match this year, a cross-town derby against Dallas, which they lost 52-10. Dallas starts 2023 by hosting the Grand Prairie Mavericks on January 14th.
Also finishing 1-7 last year are the Grand Prairie Mavericks. Grand Prairie are still new to the RRRC Division 1 and have fought tooth and nail to prove they have what it takes to hang with the big boys. They traded 1-1 with the Dallas Harlequins last year, and are more than capable of adding more wins to that column this year. There are no easy games in Men’s D1, and Grand Prairie opens their season on January 14th with a trip across town to play the Harlequins. That will be one to watch.
With a new coach and improved facility, the Austin Huns are back and ready to rumble. Austin finished 4-4 last year, with losses to Dallas and the Austin Blacks, but don’t let that cloud your judgment; even David took down Goliath. Austin has already played two matches this season; a close race in Dallas, and a bigger loss at home against the Blacks. With the return of a few Austin MLR players, the Huns might make a late season comeback. They kickoff the new year hosting Rugby HTX on January 14th.
Speaking of the return of a few MLR players, the Austin Blacks sported some familiar names on their roster in their December match. Austin finished 7-1 last year, tying with Dallas on record and table points, leaving it to come down to the head to head result for who advanced. The 21-22 season may have ended there, but Austin looks to the future. They have already put on a convincing performance with a 52-23 win over the Austin Huns on December 17th, but there’s a long season yet ahead. The Blacks open with one of the most awaited matches of the Men’s D1 competition on January 14th, Blacks vs Reds.
We finish appropriately with the defending USA Rugby National Champions, the Dallas Rugby Football Club. Dallas had a dream season last year; losing only once to the Austin Blacks in December, they started on a warpath that wound its way through Texas and right to the podium in Atlanta, GA. (OK there was no actual podium, but the imagery is cool) I could write more, but I think “Defending National Champions” really says it all. Dallas is back and ready for another run to Nationals, but need to get through the rest of the teams listed above first, and that will not be easy. Dallas has already started 2-0 this year; as noted above, they have a massive test coming up, the second weekend of January at Burr Field.