Only five times in American rugby history has a team won the Division I, Rugby Super League or Elite Cup championship in its home metropolitan area*. Twice the club that accomplished this feat was the Denver Barbarians. The ‘Barbos,’ as they’re commonly known, captured the 1999 Rugby Super League and the 1990 Men’s Division I Championship on home soil in Denver, Colo. This weekend, they’ll look to repeat this accomplishment again, albeit in the home stadium of their local rivals, Glendale.
The Barbarians come into the semi-finals on the heels of one of their best seasons ever. With a 9-3 record in league/playoff competition, Denver captured the 2012-2013 West Division I Championship, defeated their crosstown rivals (Glendale) twice, and finished third in their pool in the inaugural Elite Cup competition. To reach this point, the club also downed the Austin Huns, Santa Monica Dolphins and Old Mission Beach Athletic (San Diego, Calif.) in national playoff action. This weekend, they will take on the Elite Cup runners-up in their 4:30 P.M. semi-final, the Life University Running Eagles.
Life enters the match having the Elite Cup title torn from them the previous weekend against San Francisco Golden Gate. Down early to SFGG, the Running Eagles stormed back to take the lead but couldn’t hold on late, falling 31-26. On the season, the club has a 10-2 record overall and were once again the South Division I Champions. Their road to the semi-finals saw them battle through two fellow Elite Cup participants in the Round of 16 and the National Quarter-Finals, defeating Old Blue of New York and Boston, respectively. Life was also victorious over the Chicago Lions in the Round of 32. Should the Running Eagles make the National Championship game, it will be the program’s third final in as many weekends. The club’s collegiate side won the Division 1-A National Championship over St. Mary’s College (Calif.) on May 18.
Runner-up to Life in the South this year was New Orleans, who entered the national playoffs as an unknown entity to many. Playing in just a three-team league, New Orleans was only afforded four league matches, winning two decisively while falling twice to powerhouse Life. The club then entered the national playoffs by upsetting the Chicago Griffins in the Round of 32 before rolling past Potomac Athletic (Washington, D.C.) in the National Round of 16. With a tight victory over Metropolis (Minneapolis, Minn.) in the National Quarter-Finals, ‘NOLA,’ as the club is commonly called, continues its ascendency as a program. Just two years ago (2011), New Orleans was the Division II National Champion, and last year the club’s reserve side captured the Division III National Championship. As such, NOLA’s 6:30 P.M. semi-final match against Seattle OPSB marks the club’s third consecutive trip to Rugbytown, USA, home of the past five national semi-final events.
Seattle OPSB formed this year as a result of the merger between Old Puget Sound Beach and Seattle RFC. Traditionally, the sides competed in the RSL (OPSB) and Canadian competitions, but this year the merged club enters the 2013 Division I National Semi-Finals on a roll. Seattle OPSB, a 2013 Elite Cup semi-finalist, is 9-3 overall and has only seen losses at the hands of the 2013 Elite Cup Champions, San Francisco Golden Gate. Aside from those, the team storms into the finals with solid victories over the San Diego Old Aztecs (Round of 32), Austin Blacks (Round of 16), and fellow Elite Cup participants Glendale (National Quarter-Finals).
In Division II, semi-final debutant Wilmington (Dela.) walks into a hornet’s nest against seasoned opponents Santa Rosa (Calif.), Snake River (Boise, Idaho), and Wisconsin. With a record of 11-0, the Mid-Atlantic Champions should be ready, however. After all, they had to twice defeat 2012 National Champion Rocky Gorge to get this far. Wilmington faces perennial Pacific Northwest power Snake River at 1:00 P.M. Snake River returns to the semi-finals for the fourth time, having last appeared in 2010. The club also won the 1996 Division II National Championship in Chicago, Ill. This year, the club is 15-2 and captured both the Pacific Northwest and Pacific Coast Division II Championships.
The club that finished second to Snake River in the Pacific Coast is return participant Santa Rosa. As Northern California Division II Champions, this weekend will mark Santa Rosa’s fifth appearance in the national semi-finals. After capturing back-to-back national championships in 1993 and 1994, the team did not make the semi-finals again until last year, where they fell to eventual champion Rocky Gorge. Scarred only by Snake River, 12-1, Santa Rosa takes on Midwest powerhouse Wisconsin at 3:00 P.M.
After suffering a tough loss in the championship match last year, Wisconsin has high hopes for its fifth semi-final appearance. Over the 2012-2013 season, the men from Madison have compiled a 13-1 record overall and captured yet another Midwest championship. In 1998, Wisconsin won the Division II National Championship in San Diego, Calif.
The outcome of the Division III championship is anyone’s guess, with four very different sides entering the semi-finals. The 9:00 A.M. match between Belmont Shore D3 and Old Blue of New York D3 will be a reserve-side showdown from two of the nation’s premier rugby clubs, while the 11:00 A.M. Oceanside-Saratoga clash will feature two dominant and ascending programs. Between the four clubs, there have only been two losses all season – and one of those came in a match between two of the teams (the Oceanside Chiefs defeated Belmont Shore D3 in regular season play). The winners of the two semi-final matches will advance to the 11:00 A.M. championship match, which will kick off Championship Sunday inside the stadium at Infinity Park.
* Note: The Gentlemen of Aspen captured the 2002 RSL title at home. The Glendale Raptors also captured the 2011 Division I title at home as did Old Mission Beach Athletic (OMBAC) in 1991. Old Blues, of Berkeley, Calif., won the 1982 Division I National Championship in Palo Alto, Calif., but Palo Alto is technically in the San Jose MSA and not the San Francisco-Oakland MSA that the Old Blues were based out of. Old Blues have since folded. Battleship (Mobile, Ala.) is the only Division II or Division III club to have won a championship in its home metropolitan area, capturing the 1992 Division II National Championship.
|Elite Cup Participants
West Division I Champions
Two-Time National Champions (RSL - 1999; D1 - 1990)
|2||Life University Running Eagles
|Elite Cup Runners-Up
West Division 1 Champions
Two-Time National Champions (RSL - 2008; D1 - 2000)
New Orleans, Louisiana
|South Division I Runners-Up
2011 Division II National Champions
|Elite Cup Semi-Finalists
Northern California Division I Runners-Up
Five-Time 7s National Champions (1988, 1990, 1991, 1992, 2010
Santa Rosa, California
|Northern California Division II Champions
Pacific Coast Division II Runners-Up
Two-Time National Champions (1993, 1994)
|Pacific Northwest Division II Champions
Pacific Coast Division II Champions
1996 Division II National Champions
|Mid-Atlantic Division II Champions|
|Midwest Division II Champions
1998 Division II National Champions
|1||Belmont Shore D3
Long Beach, California
|Southern California Division III Runners-Up|
|Southern California Division III Champions|
|3||Old Blue of New York D3
New York, New York
|Empire Division III Champions|
Saratoga, New York
|New England Division III Champions|