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MadHatters and Outlawz

Thursday May 28, 2009 in Grassroots Rugby Division III Clubs

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May 28, 2009 – Could there be two teams with more different backgrounds?

Danbury, a 324-year-old town in Connecticut with much history, a longstanding hatmaking industry (the rugby club is called the Mad Hatters), the home of singer Tracy Chapman, and a median income well above the average; Aberdeen, SD, a city some 200 years younger known for its railroads and some hard living (the rugby club is called the Outlawz), a median income significantly lower than Danbury, and the hometown of Red Sox manager Terry Francona.

These two get to meet this weekend in one of the men’s DIII semifinals in Glendale, Colo.

Danbury’s final practices were tight, in part because of a little local press.

“The local paper was covering us, so we were really focused: no dropped balls, no nerves,” said club president Keith Prazeres. “Wanted to put on a good show, take nice photos. We were pretty on point.”

One wonders if they will invite the reporter on their trip West.

Much of the past week’s work for Danbury has been on fitness. The hot humid weather in the earlier playoffs in South Carolina hit them hard.

“We're used to a cool spring, so we're excited about the expected 72 degrees in Colorado,” Prazeres said. “We still have to compensate for the thin air out there - we're going from 300 too 5000 feet. That's why we're flying in a day early to acclimate.”

Danbury has been in playoff rugby before. They were in the DII round of 16 in 1998, but fell off the year after, forced to drop to DIII due to low numbers. They will be moving back to DII next season.

"We didn't march through the competition in the fall; a couple of teams gave us a good game. But we're ready for the challenge."

Prazeres is a hooker on the team and has been with Danbury since 2000. This year, he has seen the team come together.

“Many of us have been playing together since 2001, 2002,” he said. “You really get to know each other over the years. We didn't go out looking for other players from other countries. We know everything about each other. Scott, our coach, has been coaching for two full seasons, but he used to play with us. He's one of the Joe Torres of the world - he's an excellent coach but wasn't necessarily the best player. He got us focused around a game plan.”

Danbury’s tough forward pack will have to operate without two of their better players, flankers Todd May and Adam Pinella, unavailable due to work and a wedding.

“We're lucky enough to have talented subs,” said Prazeres. “The backs are looking good. My brother, Julius, went out with a concussion at Sweet 16s - and apologized to me as the medical staff made me accompany him to the hospital - but he's back for the weekend. Our mom had called the following day making him buy all kinds of equipment
... if anything, it makes him look scarier.”

Captain Chris Smith, center Sean McNeal and fullback Anda Mpofu lead the scoring ledger for the club.

Danbury takes on Northern State, a men’s club that evolved out of the Northern State University team.

We compare Northern State to us. They're a club team that's evolved from
the college side. Although we've been around for some time, we've had
Western Connecticut State send us players. That's how we used to be. We
have a great crop of guys who've been together at college and on to the
men's side.

The central theme for Northern is their defense. They are physical and hardworking in preventing tries, led by Mike Preciado and Jon Peckam, with youngsters Tony Bock, Tom Parrott and Chris Hurd helping out.  Wes Uepi, Maia Tupou and Tad Johnson all take advantage of the chances to bring in the tries. They are aggressive and very quick, and that may well be the key.

Can Danbury hang with Northern’s speed early? And will the altitude have an effect on either style of play?

- Alex Goff & Jackie Finlan © www.erugbynews.com

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