Texas launches its DI club season this weekend with six matches, and one big question: is Austin out of everyone’s reach?
The quick answer is, it seems so. The Blacks won Texas in 2011, pulling off the rare feat of qualifying for the playoffs in two divisions (DI and DIII). It was a feat of logistics, too, as the club took 56 players to two playoffs in Chula Vista, Calif. (grateful, at least, to be at just the one venue).
In the end, said Head Coach Lachlan Ferguson, handling two teams might have been biting off a bit too much. If that happens again, the Blacks will be more ready.
And Ferguson will be a little more settled. The Australian dealt with the passing of his father during last season, and then his own wedding to a Texan. The sadness and joy made for a stressful and fluid spring. This time, it’s different.
“I am here in Texas full-time,” said Ferguson. “We had a successful season last season and we’re looking to do more this time.”
He’s going to do that with some returning players and some new talent. While former Utah Warrior center Siosaia Vainuku tore his ACL and won’t be playing for the Blacks this season, he is expected to be an effective long-term addition. They do expect Levi Kereti to have a breakout season, and he will be joined in the backline by former Sacramento Lions fullback Ratu Rinakama and New Zealander James Lowery.
Up front they have made some changes, also. Loosehead prop Mike Lowe moves to Texas from Otago in New Zealand, while former Rutgers product Joe Malanka comes in at tighthead, moving from Old Blue in New York.
Matt Lytle moves from DII champs New Orleans to the Austin 2nd row.
Ferguson is understandably high on these additions, and hopes it helps put his team over the top.
“We walked away from California not happy with our performance [ in the playoffs],” he said. “We know we’re good, but how good is tough to gauge because we don’t know what the level is in Texas. So we’re looking at some other competitive options outside the region. I do know we’ve got a strong tight five and exciting back three.”
Austin faces the Dallas Harlequins, which will compete in three divisions this year. The ‘Quins will play in the Super League, and in DI. They will also be part of an interesting experiment in Texas, where DI and DII B teams will play in a DIII conference. This allows clubs to field a DIII team that travels with the rest of the club. At the end of the season, the top B-side DIII team will play off with the team DIII-only top team.
The ‘Quins have a lot of depth, and their youth movement continues. They don’t get a lot of opportunities to ease into league play before facing the league favorites.
Also up this weekend, Fort Worth visits the Austin Huns and Dallas plays HARC in Houston.