Last season, Belmont Shore rejoined DI after a long stint in the Super League and were considered instant favorites to win the national title.
They lived up to that expectation until the final match of the season, losing to Southern California rival Las Vegas in the national championship game at Infinity Park.
Belmont coach Greg Commins said repeatedly throughout the season anything short of a championship wouldn’t be considered a success. He also admitted that accompanied by their move back to DI was some pressure to perform.
The Boston Irish Wolfhounds left the Super League after the 2010 season and reentered DI. Saturday, they play the Glendale Raptors at Infinity Park in the DI semifinals. While the external expectations to win a national title didn’t follow them as they had Belmont Shore last season, the pressure did, says BIWRFC captain Peter Lennon.
“I think there are two aspects to that. I think stepping down from the Super League isn’t always a rugby standard issue. Quite frequently in the US, it’s a financial issue.
"Especially when it’s financial, you don’t want to admit you’re playing a slightly lower level of rugby. You want to prove to everybody else, and especially those you played against in the Super League, that you’re still a very good side and you’re still able to do that,” said Lennon.
“Also, I think every team you play against wants to have a go at you. It’s like being a very successful team in the professional game, like a Leicester or a Munster or Crusaders in New Zealand. Every team says, ‘This is our big game this season.’
“Certainly, here in Boston we experienced that with a couple of teams who had been DI. They saw our first 15 coming back to DI as a real opportunity; ‘We’re going to have a real go at these guys.’ So there was pressure coming from both sides.”
Lennon says there was also a some internal pressure, and it wasn’t all bad.
“You always have the internal club pressure. Certain people maybe didn’t agree with the decision (to leave the Super League) who want to see if the club is going to maintain its strength,” he said, “and personally, you put pressure upon yourself, so that you don’t take your foot off the accelerator.”
If the Wolfhounds don’t win a national title, though, their season probably won’t be looked at as a failure, because when you get to the last four teams left, the BIWRFC captain says, they’re all very good.
“I think teams are better prepared, better coached, have less weaknesses, are just more all-around teams, and when you get to the final four you tend to be competing with teams who are in or about Super League level, whereas that isn’t always the case in the regional qualifiers,” he said.
“The players are faster, quicker, fitter, they hit harder, the play is technically accurate. I think the whole standard of rugby is another step forward and closer to the Super League level.”