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Cross-Continent Rivals - DIII Semis

Thursday May 28, 2009 in Grassroots Rugby Division III Clubs

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(Beaumont punches ahead in the muddy quarterfinals two weeks ago. Greg Barker photo.)

May 28, 2009 - After they won in their round of 16 the team that Beaumont defeated were disappointed, but said later they were at least pleased to have lost to just a plain good bunch of guys.

While the guys at Budd Bay may be fans, Massachusetts-based Middlesex are not. The two will face off in the DIII semis Saturday in Glendale, Colo.

“We're looking good, feeling good,” said Beaumont’s Rowdy Russell. “We're only three years old, so we're pretty stoked to make it out this far. We've picked up the intensity at practice since playoffs two weeks ago, since we won't be used to the altitude. Just been focusing on the fundamentals - rucking, mauling, set pieces - crossing the Ts and dotting the Is.”

Getting this far for such a new club is tough. Russell said Beaumont has done it by looking for the athletes.

“Southern California has a really good football history, so many of our guys are ex-football players who were looking to get back into a sport,” said Russell. “Probably only five of our 25 have prior rugby knowledge. I played with six or seven of the guys in high school sports. We went to college and moved back to Beaumont - because it's a beautiful place to live - and after a while, wanted something to get us off the couch. So one of the guys suggested we start a rugby team. At first we just wanted to numbers for a 7s team, but the word spread and now we more guys than we can field. It's great.”

Players also coach the team. No. 8 Mark Squires handles the forwards and scrumhalf Bill Pendley takes care of the backs. Pendley, who has 15 years in the game and used to play at Riverside, is the glue keeping everyone together.

Hoping to unstuck said glue is Middlesex, a team from the pick-and-jam Northeast, but a team eager to change that image.

“When I think of Northeast rugby, I think of pick-and-pound rugby,” said Middlesex coach Josh Smith. “It’s a little slower and not characterized by expansive back play. That’s the team we were last year. The set pieces were our focus. We’ve really worked on our fitness and consider it one of our strong points. The elevation (in Glendale ) will play into our hands.”

A little banged up from the playoffs, Middlesex has been working on its depth.

“Everyone’s missing players at this point,” said Smith. “We took last week off, duct-taped everyone back together. After the Lexington match, we’ve had to adjust our counter-rucking strategy. We put too much emphasis on it – especially inside the 22 meter – and pushed it too hard late in the game, even after we’d won the ball, and that resulted in penalties. People got sloppy and started losing their feet in the breakdown.”

Leading the way for the Massachusetts club is flyhalf Jay Stefani who runs the offense. Jared Landers and Johon Neehan are athletic at center, and they are as often as not the try scorers. Smith also coaches at Bentley college and Landers is a Bently grad. From further afield, Cal Poly grad Ryan Faries has helped spark the up-tempo play from fullback.

“We lost in the semifinals to Michiana last year,” said Smith. “We’ve retained almost all of last year’s players, but many of them have been bumped off the top 15. Eleven of last year’s 22 are starting. We made a huge recruitment push in the colleges and got a lot of young guys. Right now, there’s really no point in worrying about a team I know little about. We just have to play our game and make them react to us.”

And Beaumont’s Russell also says there’s no need worrying about the other guys.

“We definitely have a blue-collar style of play,” he said. “We don't have any finesse players - we ruck, maul, run hard and straight. We're big on support to maintain possession. And we just pound away until we score.”

Good advice.

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

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