In its first year of infancy, the Rugby Gold Cup is a competition between the top-two-finishing sides from both the Midwest and Red River Division I competitions. Last year’s results earned Kansas City and Metropolis a place in the Gold Cup, while Austin and Dallas represent the Red River after successful 2015 seasons.
In November, the Blacks and Reds traveled north to face both of their Gold Cup counterparts from the Midwest, and fared quite well. The Blacks were able to sweep through their doubleheader, while Dallas settled for a split after narrowly falling to the KC Blues, 24-20. Now in the midst of their Red River schedule, both conference fixtures between the Blacks and Reds will count towards the Gold Cup standings.
“The two victories in the Gold Cup meant a lot,” said Austin Head Coach Tane Jericevich. “We had a large number of players unavailable, but still managed to come away with the two wins. This showed the depth we have, which is very important with a longer season this year.”
Even after tasting bitter defeat deep into the 2015 postseason, the Reds insist redemption is not on their minds.
“We have put last year’s loss behind us, and the boys are focused on this season,” said Dallas coach Rhys Ball. “That being said, it is hard not to remember it.”
Last year’s Semifinal didn’t boost the team’s motivation heading into this season either, but that’s because no additional motivation was needed.
“One of the reasons we are unique and one of the more storied clubs in the nation is that we embrace a club-first culture that is based on humility,” explained assistant Filip Keuppens. “Our players and coaching staff realize that, while we have been competitive over the past few years, we haven’t actually won anything.”
The Blacks have their own disappointment to hurdle. In the Men’s DI Club Final, Austin raced out to a 21-point lead against NYAC, but eventually fell to the New York club, 44-39.
“It was a game that we believe we should’ve won and didn’t,” recalled Jericevich. “Starting afresh in September, there was a real sense of putting things right and a more focused attitude, which has made for a real competitive and learning environment in training.”
In order to win a big match, and there is no question this is a massive contest, key players typically need to play at a high level. For Dallas, several back-line standouts are capable of getting behind a defense, including Blake Boulton, Kelly Kolberg, and Rob McDermott. In the forwards, Jonny Heron and Dale Ross are a powerful pair of locks, while blindside flanker Chad Joseph gets around the park really well.
Jericevich insists the Blacks “don’t have any real standouts," but that’s a standard observation of many coaches who lead teams that have several incredible individual players. Newly recruited prop Chris Baumann won’t be with the club as he provides his services to the Men's Eagles during the Americas Rugby Championship. However, Austin will benefit from the presence of fellow front-rower Brendan Rams, who is quickly developing a reputation as one of the best hookers in club rugby.
Zac Mizell and Pat Sullivan spearhead the Blacks’ backs. The two Collegiate All-Americans were teammates while attending Arkansas State, and have an on-field chemistry that usually results in line breaks while on attack.
“We understand this game is important – a top-of-the-table clash,” Jericevich said. “Still, we approach it like every other game – looking to better our last performance, play to our strengths and force them to play away from theirs.”
For Dallas, attempting to keep the Blacks from playing into their strengths might be tough because of how well balanced the club is.
“Austin is a very good side across the field, and they don’t have a weak link that opposing teams can exploit,” complimented Ball. “They are very solid at set pieces, and can attack from broken play with speed out wide.”
The clash for Red River and Gold Cup supremacy is just one part of a rugby-loaded day in Austin. The festivities begin at Burr Field where two D1A Rugby matches will precede the senior club fixture. The University of Texas will face 17th-ranked LSU at 10 a.m. CT, followed by a contest between Texas A&M and Baylor at noon. The Blacks and Red will then take the pitch at 2 p.m. CT, giving all teams involved the opportunity to attend the second leg of the American Rugby Championship between the Eagles and Canada at Dell Diamond – just 25 miles from Burr Field.