The USA Rugby Super League is, all of a sudden, almost over.
All but one team have played five games, and here’s the rundown of where everyone is and how they’re playing:
Avg Score: 31-15
Life can still lose home field advantage if they drop their April 30 match to Boston in Boston. But so far they haven’t looked like they are going to. None of their games have been blowouts, but the Life MO is pretty clear: strangle with the forwards, don’t take a step back in the set piece, defend like crazy, kick for field position whenever possible, and if there’s a chance to run wild, do so.
It’s not spectacular, but it works, and has worked, for the most part, for Life since 2008 when they won the DI club title. They aren’t deep, and they can be overhauled, but with flanker Pat Danahy entering good form, they are still the favorites.
Avg Score: 29-22
Boston has an enterprising back three that also likes to play physical. They are improving in the scrum and generally play smart tactical rugby. Can they stand up to the power running of a team like SFGG? Well, it will be hard. They have physical strength in the midfield, and the addition of Roland Suniula helped there.
Boston needs to beat Life at home in two weeks in order to get a home semifinal against Life a week later. Don’t think this game is meaningless. Neither team wants to travel to the other.
Avg Score: 19-21
The Lions played in three games decided by two points, and won two of them. Would we be talking about them as one of the better East teams had one of those games gone the other way? They play a basic, hard-working type of game. It’s not flashy, but they are building and we could see the Lions being a top two team in two years.
They can’t make the playoffs even if Boston loses and the Lions get a bonus-point win, because Boston wins the head-to-head by virtue of April 2nd’s 24-22 Boston victory. So there’s the razor-thin separation again. Chicago could have been the #2 team but for a penalty or a drop goal.
New York Athletic Club
Avg. Score: 22-22
Their average score is actually 21.6 to 22.4, so about a point difference. NYAC is out of it because they lost to Boston and they lost 12-10 this past week to the Chicago Lions. No one was happy with their performance in that game, which did not look like a midseason, in-form type of display.
NYAC wins when they have their set pieces down, they play as a team, and they don’t try to do too much. But they do have athletes, and do need them to be on the field. They’ve lost a few to injury this year, and just didn’t have the horses to make up for it. They aren’t markedly different from last year, but different enough to lose three games.
Avg. Score: 18-23
The Griffins are a bunch of good rugby players with one or two extremely good rugby players. That’s not enough. You can get away with that combination if you play as a team better than anyone else, and you do one or two things better than anyone else. The Griffins don’t quite get there, but they aren’t a bad team – look at their average scoreline.
They compete, they battle, they’re just not polished … yet.
Ave. Score: 17-31
Old Blue has been a club in turmoil for years now. Players fighting players, club battling administrators, grouchiness all around … and yet they’re still here. They lost two games by close margins, and weren’t out of it against Life. They could be the best winless team in Super League history.
Old Blue has a new coach, and you can only hope he sticks with the club and they can settle down and work on getting better. A little continuity and they are right there.
Avg. Score: 45-17
No team has dominated their competition like SFGG. They do it despite having a substandard scrum, and that’s because even going backward they can turn the tables on you. They can do it with power and they can do it with speed, and they love to counter off mistakes.
As a result SFGG can run up the score on some very good defensive teams. They are confident they can do this, and as a result they are very patient even if they fall behind, because they know they can run in three tries in a matter of moments.
Right now, it’s hard to imagine SFGG not winning the Super League championship. But they do have an excellent opponent on the horizon in Life. The Running Eagles will defend doggedly and won’t allow mistakes to kill them the way teams in the West have so far. It’s a classic case of a run-and-gun team against a grinder team that concentrates more on defense. Usually it’s the latter that ends up winning, and with SFGG having given up 53 points in their last two games, maybe that’s a worry, too.
Old Puget Sound Beach
Avg. Score: 33-23
The high point-for average is misleading because OPSB has played one less game than everyone else, and so their 69 points against Dallas skews the results a little more. In fact, OPSB, has struggled to score points and has relied more on their defense to win games.
Right now they sit at 3-1, but it’s a tenuous 3-1 in that two of those wins were by two or one point. They could indeed lose those games (against Denver and Utah ) on the rematch. If OPSB does make the semis, they might point to a single play as to the moment that got them there.
It’s possible that play happened in the snow against the Utah Warriors. A kick ahead into the slush was bobbled backward by Robert Fitzpatrick, and a Utah player gathered the ball and seemed in for an easy score. Out of nowhere, fullback (and player-coach) Evan Haigh raced in and made the tackle, forcing a knock-on.
That saved a try, and an 18-17 win. But if OPSB wants to make the semis, perhaps they need to play a game where they don’t leave it up to such heroics.
Avg. Score: 44-30
The lopsided schedule in the West means Denver played Dallas twice, and won big twice. Them’s the breaks, and the Barbarians now need to make it work for them.
Remember, while they gave up 50 points to SFGG, they did score four tries in the space of 40 minutes against the Bay Area club. They do have players who can score tries, they just need some quicker thinking at key decision-making moments, and they need to avoid injuries.
Seemingly out of it two weeks ago, Denver can now still finish 2nd. They need to beat OPSB in Denver (a team they lost to by two March 19) and then hope Utah beats OPSB.
Avg. Score: 38-33
No you can’t just put a team together and expect to win every game at the highest level, but you can put a team together out of nothing and have them compete. Utah has astounding quick-strike ability. They scored 29 against San Francisco Golden Gate this weekend, they certainly can do the same in their finale Seattle against OPSB.
The weather hasn’t been their friend, but the Warriors as an organization need to stop pointing fingers and start looking in the mirror. They can still do this.
In fact, it’s very possible that Denver, OPSB and Utah could all finish 3-3. If that does indeed happen, then bonus points come into play. Denver currently has more bonus points than the other two teams.
Avg. Score: 15-71
That’s right, the Dallas Harlequins are averaging 71 points against. They are young, they don’t have the depth, the size, or the experience. They are the worst team in the league.
That doesn’t mean they are the worst club. What it means is, they are having a tough time when most clubs having a tough time simple opted out of the league altogether. Dallas has pitched up every week and taken their lumps. They are trying, but it’s a tough classroom this league.
The story of the ‘Quins, with losses piling up in Super League, DI having trouble and DII also playing is one that often ends with the club dropping out of the Super League. That could happen, or something else could change. What we hope is, it’s the right thing for the Harlequins.
So with one game left for every team but one (OPSB has two to play), Life and Boston are clearly the best two in the East, and it could very well be that Boston upsets Life, twice, and makes the final. And SFGG is clearly the best in the West, and the #2 team could be any one of three teams.
And when it comes down to the championship game, it’s likely SFGG will be favored, but if they have to travel to Georgia and face Life in their own back yard, which they will probably have to do, don’t be surprised if it’s the conservative, defensive-minded team that played all those close games which comes out on top.