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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Checking In With The South Panthers

The South Panthers have been one of the most exciting teams to watch over the last few years as they have made runs to the NACRA Championship. Last year they came up against a tough Mexico side that dashed their hopes of making the final. On the U-19 side the team hosted the annual age-grade tournament fielding a couple of sides. We wanted to get an update on the team in terms of what they have planned for selection camps, what they learned from last season, and why they are planning for the next year so we spoke with Panthers coach Rene Daniels and U-19 coach Mark Williams.

Rene Daniels: The USA Rugby South Panthers will once again be hosting two fall camps in preparation for our first International match of 2016 vs. The Bahamas National team. The first open camp will take place October 17th & 18th hosted by Charlotte RFC in Charlotte, NC. Our second camp will be in Atlanta, GA, November 14th and will be hosted by Atlanta Old White on November 14th followed by a game the next day vs. Life Elite at Life University. The Life Elite program is one of the premiere rugby programs in North America and will test our players at a level many are not exposed to on a regular basis.

Take the jump to read more.

A final selection will occur immediately following the USARS vs. Life Elite game for a December warm up match vs. the Capital Union All-Star team to be played in Greenville, SC. The USARS team does not have the luxury of multiple weekly training sessions together and will only be able to come together 24-48 hours prior to each game. We will train for one day in January before playing The Bahamas National team in Nassau.

Last year, the Panthers experienced two International losses. The first vs. Mexico, in Mexico City, where altitude was a huge factor and a well prepared Mexican National team out played us. We did not stick to our game plan in the 2nd half.  Mexico is a young and fit team which is a deadly combination for any team playing at an altitude of over 9,000 feet. Adaptation at that altitude is next to impossible in a weekend. In our second match vs. the Cayman Islands we were well prepared and played well for 75 minutes only to lose by 1 point on a last minute  intercepted pass. We let off the pressure toward the end of the game which became very evident. I did take some positives from the game with individual performances and we played much better than in Mexico City. As always, it comes down to who makes the most errors and if an opposing team can capitalize on your errors. Our errors cost us the game. ​

Overall, the program continues to grow with new players continually making the effort to be a part of the program. Our team has strong support from LIfe U for field space and hosting International matches. Our current list of players grows each year. We attempt to have camps at different locations within the Southeast to make it easier for players to come to a camp and save on player expenses. The coaching pool has been opened up to involve new coaches as well as regional selectors to help with the process. Myself (Rene Daniel) and Franceso Balsas are showing up at many club and college games to evaluate and recruit future players. Any interested player in the Southeast looking to play are more than welcome to attend one of our camps. Registration is simple and available on our website www.usarugbysouthpanthers.com. A coach’s recommendation stating that you are ready for this level of rugby is needed to register. Sign up today 😊

We are looking forward to the January game against the Bahamas and believe this scheduled game will allow us to evaluate new talent and put together a strong team. During the first couple of weeks in January almost all men's club teams are idle. We are unsure if NACRA will involve USARS for 2016 after The Bahamas game. The year 2016 is a World Cup qualifier year for NACRA and the US National team will need to start their qualification games. I am sure we will be able to arrange friendlies in 2016 as NACRA teams will need World Cup warm up matches. More to come when NACRA meets in early 2016

Mark Williams: While we finished 2nd in this year’s NACRA Tournament we know we could have won the event had we had more time together as a team.  Mexico has now won the tournament for the second year in a row.  Our understanding is that they had their team together for almost 8 months and had competed in 4 international tournaments prior to the NACRA tournament this July.  This was a huge advantage and it showed in the championship game.  

Going Forward we realize we have to identify players sooner and have more time for team development.  This fall we are launching the Panther Rugby Academy focused on u19 and high school players.  I have attached a slide show which is still a work in process, but it will give you more information on our vision.  We are working with some other Academy programs and we are finalizing the schedule and should be publishing that very soon.

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