Highland High School is the #1 seed out of the Pacific Coast in the USA Rugby National U19 Championships, but there is still another seed to be decided.
United, which took the #2 seed the last three years, and beat Highland in the final, headlines the playoff this weekend at Murray City Park in Salt Lake City. They will take on Washington champions Liberty, while Red Mountain out of Arizona will take on Hayward from Northern California.
It’s an interesting mix of teams. Red Mountain, like United, has connections with schools in New Zealand and will have a distinctly Kiwi influence in their squad. Red Mountain is virtually equal to Tempe (which actually won the Arizona state title). The two teams played twice, and both games were close (although Tempe won both). Both teams also played Highland, each losing 63-0.
Meanwhile Hayward lost to SFGG in the NorCal playoffs, but will take the option of moving on to this playoff.
Liberty, meanwhile, has been planning for this trip for months,.
“The only issue for us is we haven’t played in a while,” said Liberty Head Coach Jeff Candler. Liberty has benefited from an influx of local football talent, notably inside center Drez Henfield, whose father, Colin Cole, is a defensive tackle for the Seattle Seahawks.
“You asked me if I am concerned about United’s size – we ave an inside center who is 6-3 240 pounds,” said Candler. “So, not, not really.”
Liberty has a big, imposing pack, as does United, and some speedy talent out wide, as does United. Candler said the program took a leap forward in recent years after he started pushing character standards within the club. Players have to maintain a certain grade point average to be able to play rugby, and Candler has indeed suspended players for grades and for other character infractions.
“We’re going to go down there and do our best,” he said. “I think we’ve got a good team and we’ll so how we do against another good team.”
Red Mountain plays Hayward Friday at 2pm, with United against Liberty at 3:30.
Winners and losers play each other on Saturday.