The USA Rugby South beat The Bahamas 42-15 Saturday in The Bahamas to advance to the North American Caribbean Rugby Association (NACRA) North pool stage.
Saturday’s victory was the South’s third in the NACRA Championship this season, previous wins coming against Jamaica and Mexico.
The Panthers now advance to the North pool stage along with Bermuda and the Cayman Islands. They’ll host the Cayman Islands May 4th, most likely in Charlotte or Atlanta, and they’ll travel to Bermuda May 16th.
The winner of the three-team round-robin advances to play the NACRA South champion. Traditionally, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago are the South’s better teams.
The Panthers’ first-half offensive onslaught was led by Charlotte center Ty Elkins, who ran in two tries on the day. He careened off of multiple tacklers en route to one long-range score. Midfield mate Amir Khan was also dangerous in attack, setting up a try for Knoxville flanker Wayne Chermley.
New Orleans flyhalf Jeff Reuther stepped through the Bahamian defense for a try, and lock Stephen Hickey of Augusta rumbled in off of a driven lineout.
“I just think we had a lot of really good structure,” said South coach David Conyers of his attack. “Our game plan was to go out and attack through their midfield channel, where we’d watched the video and thought they were weak. That’s where we had a lot of good results. We managed to get some early points on there.”
The South and Bahamas tied 12-12 in the second half, and it took stout defense to prevent the Bahamians from running in more points with the wind at their backs.
“It was probably the best defensive effort I’ve seen from that team in three years to keep those guys out. They were just threatening for 20 minutes straight on our line. That was a really good aspect of the game that we showed the grit to keep them out. I was really proud of the boys,” said Conyers.
“Hickey had an outstanding game. He just made eight or 10 critical tackles in that period of time. His workload and his effort today was just outstanding when we needed him most. He’s just a workhorse, that guy.”
The South pack has now had some considerable time to jell, and it’s starting to bear fruit.
“We had six out of the eight forwards return and that’s where we’re starting to get continuity now,” added Conyers.
“The main part of that team’s been together now for three matches, so we’ve got a core of players that really knows what’s going on and they’re playing well with each other and that’s really starting to make a difference.”