Boston Irish Wolf Hounds summer youth Rugby

From GOFF On Rugby
May 30, 2006.

The Division I club final four slips into San Diego a little under the radar as a new competition, the NA4, and a new national team setup, complete with test matches, slides into Santa Clara at the same time.

But the competition promises to be one of awesome proportions in that it's a battle of four very different teams, all with different obstacles to overcome, and all with one goal.

First off there's the Las Vegas Blackjacks. They ran and raced over and through so many teams this year, it's easy to forget they know how to win the hard ones, too. They've worked their way through the odd 10-3 win and don't get flustered – witness their 20-19 escape against Life.

It's a mistake, too, to say the Blackjacks are just the Vaha Esikia show. Certainly the newly Eagled center is an excellent runner (and is a willing participant in the rucks, too, which makes him invaluable), the Las Vegas had more than that.

Seta and Colin Tuilevuka can slice open any defense, Zebard Thompson is a solid field general and kicker, and Tom Carter and Wesley Cann are enormously quick loose forwards who help keep the continuity going.

So do they need Esikia? What team doesn't? Can they win without him? Sure.

Santa Monica. Well they've been there, haven't they. They lost a couple of players and kept right on winning. It wasn't as obvious or as clean cut as before, but that's part of the story, too. The Dolphins have won when they have needed to, and their 20-12 defeat of Olympic Club was a tribute to something we don't talk much about, but should, their power.

See, Santa Monica can play with any sort of team. They can reign in the speedsters like Haggis. They can handle teams that appear more powerful, like Olympic Club. And they are so even-handed in where their weapons are that when someone has a weakness (New Haven) it's on.

What Santa Monica has is no stars, really, and a commitment to a team game. They are very fit. They get along well. They have developed smart decision-making skills. And they are very, very confident. Not bad for a team that needed 11 weeks to get to a winning record.

Team defense will end up being the story. If the Dolphins can hold the line against the Blackjacks, which they couldn't March 4, they will win.

The Hayward Griffins just weren't discussed in terms of a national semifinal spot all year. Sure they almost won Northern California, but you got the feeling they were something of a gimmick team, with a 1,200-pound front row and some young kids in the back who could run.

But over time the young guys learned more about playing rugby in a complete way, and it turned out they had some forwards who could move and dominate. If you are not attentive, they get a head of steam going and as well know, everyone loves go-forward ball.

Paula Fukoduka and Saimone Laulaupeaalu and loose forward Brad Burrel lead a forward pack that's done the job, and Moe Tuifao and Semisi Finau have led the young backline to glory.

But ... and it's a big but ... they lose their best and most heady player in Mose Timoteo at a critical time. Timoteo was picked for the Eagles this week. In addition, the Griffins' run to the semis has been the easiest of the group. They beat CR2 #3 Woodlands in the opening round, and then CR3 #3 Atlanta in the quarters. No other team faced two #3s in their move through the ranks.

The Boston Irish Wolfhounds are a completely different team from Hayward, and yet in some ways they match up very well. The Wolfhounds pride themselves on their forward play skills. They do, in fact, scrummage as well as any team in the nation, and their mauling game is superb. Pretty much the only way to stop that maul once it's started is to either put in ten guys to halt its movement, or crab it to the sideline.

With Mark Tutton controlling field position with his boot, and their back row swarming to the breakdown, they don't make too many mistakes.

Still, they did give up 28 points to Haggis and almost blew it. They don't look set to blow it against Hayward. They have too many experienced heads encased in cast iron, and some very capable backs who like playing defense and can break the line when they need to.

So in the immortal words of Anthony Bugess, what's it going to be then, eh?

Santa Monica Lost to Las Vegas 28-13 on March 4. This game will be much closer than that as Santa Monica is a much improved team from that game, and Las Vegas is missing one of its stars. But ... Vegas is on a roll. They are deep, powerful, and very, very quick. Vegas by 4.

The Wolfhounds will struggle with the Griffins early, but will still emerge ahead at halftime. After that, it will slowly become the Wolfhounds' game. Expect the Boston side to build and lead and then watch Hayward fritter it away late. BIW by 8.

That leaves us with what we've been expecting all this time: the clash of the 2005 champions with the champions of 2003-2004. Both teams coached by men not shy about saying who on their team should be Eagles. Both teams who jealously guard their secrets and cultivate something of an us-against-them attitude.

Both teams who know what it is to fight and scrap, and how to win games when their big weapons aren't working. We don't pretend to make a prediction. We just know it'll be good.