This year's DI club playoffs should be the most intense the competition has seen in years. A number of forces have come together this year to push more of the top clubs into participating and some of the best players to play. For the last several years the PRP has taken away most of the top clubs in the West from participating fully while last year PRO Rugby meant that most of the top players are playing elsewhere. Not this year as traditional powerhouse teams like SFGG and OMBAC are going full bore into the competition and several teams have worked to keep top PRO Rugby players together.
The West is looking especially competitive this year. Four teams will ultimately make it to regional play in Tucson but before it even gets to that point top teams will square off. In NorCal it's been a battle all year between SFGG, Life West, and Olympic Club. SFGG has had the better results so far going unbeaten. Their roster is ripe with players that played PRO Rugby last year with either San Francisco or Sacramento. Pila Iongi, Pila Huihui, Volney Rouse, Langilangi Haupeakui, Brendan Daly, and Pat Latu are just some of the players and what looks to be one of the strongest rosters in the country.
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As things stand SFGG are almost certainly going to be the top team out of the Pacific North. They still have to go through a few steps but they are looking like champions. They also have to be one of the favorites to win the DI title at the end of the season. Life West could pull off the upset. They are likely to be the number two team out of the region. That means they will have to play the number two team from the Red River for a place in Arizona.
Who is going to be that number two team is up in the air. The Austin Huns currently have the top spot in the Red River. They have mixed and matched their side this year as they've also played in the MRC but have used their top players in Red River player. Like SFGG, they have a stacked roster. Hanco Germishuys, Mason Pederson, Peter Malcolm, and others are just a few of the top line players Austin has put together. If they play those players in Red River play the rest of the way they will almost certainly be the top seed. It will then be a battle between the Dallas Reds, who won the Gold Cup, and the Austin Blacks for the second spot and a playoff date against Life West.
In the Pacific South it has come down to Belmont Shore, Santa Monica, OMBAC, and the Old Aztecs in a playoff. Belmont Shore were the top team in the regular season and have looked good. Santa Monica didn't play in the Cal Cup this year to save their energy and look good while OMBAC have had a down year in DI but have a number of players that played with the San Diego Breakers. It wouldn't shock anyone to see them as the winner from the Pacific South.
The West regionals would then pit SFGG vs. the Austin Huns and the Pacific South winner against Life West/Red River. Those are two excellent matches and it wouldn't be a surprise if any of those teams claimed the national championship.
Out East things are a little murkier but still are intense. In the Atlantic North, Old Blue opted to not play in the playoffs meaning that NYAC and Mystic River will represent the region. Both teams have plenty of Eagles on the roster. NYAC have Al McFarland and Nate Brakeley while Mystic River are the defending champions. Either team has to be in consideration as favorites for the national championship as well.
The other powerhouse teams from the East include Rocky Gorge and Columbus. Gorge have been dominant in the Mid-Atlantic and will be heavy favorites to win the Mid-Atlantic playoffs. They will likely play Schuylkill River in the first round and then the winner of the Norfolk Blues and Pittsburgh Harlequins. Ben Cima has been big for Rocky Gorge but they have also had buy in from a number of players. It would be a big shock if they lost in the Mid-Atlantic playoffs.
The same goes for Columbus in the Midwest. The club has benefited from having a number of former Ohio Aviators players on the roster like Riekert Hattingh and Roland Suniula. That experience has barely seen them lose this year and will be big in the playoffs.
The other Midwest playoff teams will be Metropolis, the Chicago Lions, and either the Chicago Griffins or the Kansas City Blues. All of those teams have had success in the last few years and will be a tough out for any team in the East.
Put it all together and this is a potential Elite 8
Life West/Austin Blacks/Dallas Reds
Belmont Shore/OMBAC/Santa Monica
That is a very strong line-up. All of those teams will fancy their chances and it is going to make for some awesome viewing.