Friday, June 2, 2017

Heavyweights Austin Huns, NYAC Clash For DI Crown

Seamus Kelly (#13 NYAC) could be a difference maker.
Photo: Colleen McCloskey

On the one hand you have the upstart team that has never competed in the DI final in the Austin Huns against the team that has been there many times in NYAC. Regardless of experience in a final this is shaping up to be a classic match. Both teams are loaded with talent, some of whom will be involved for the Eagles next week against Ireland. Both teams also love to get out and attack while playing solid defense. Don't expect their to be a blowout and it could come down to the final play.

The Austin Huns have made a lot of noise this year and have had a rapid rise. As one of the main drivers behind the new Major League Rugby competition next year the Huns have gone out and added a bunch of players with PRO Rugby and National Team experience. Peter Malcolm was called into the Eagles summer squad while Hanco Germishuys and Mason Pedersen have experience with the Eagles or Eagles Select as well. Todd Clever could make an appearance for the team but has yet to suit up this year.

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In addition to the likes of Malcolm, Germishuys, and Pedersen the team has experienced players like Martin Knoetze, Michael Reid, Kyle Breytenbach, Lomani Tongotongo, and Timothee Guillimin. Knoetze was one of the star players in PRO Rugby last year for the Denver Stampede while Tongotongo and Guillimin bring experience from overseas. It's been the play of fly-half Guillimin that has really helped the team take off this year.

In Red River play the team hasn't always run out their top squad due to conflicts with friendly matches against the likes of Glendale and Rugby Utah but they still managed to go 7-1 with mostly blowouts. They did have a surprise loss to HARC back in February but that was the same day their top players, who will play in this match, played Glendale for the first time this year. In fact, outside of the HARC loss on the Raptors have been able to inflicts a loss on the Huns this year. They ended up losing to the Raptors by healthy margins during the year.

The Huns also had a close match against SFGG in the playoffs where they won 45-31. That said, they were in control for most of that match. On day two they crushed Belmont Shore to make the final. There aren't a lot of weaknesses on the Huns this year but they have been shown that they can give up a fair amount of points. If NYAC can rely on their experience and turn the scoreboard over early it will put pressure on the Huns to react.

As mentioned NYAC are no strangers to playing in a final. They have a lot of experienced players that have played in big game situations. Players like Seamus Kelly and Al McFarland have World Cup experience. Nate Brakeley has been called into the Eagles summer squad. Other players like Ross Deacon (for Junior All-American from Ireland), Justin Hundley, Chris Mattina, and Harry Bennett are all stars. Mattina in particular has really stepped up for the injured Harry Bennett in recent weeks to play fly-half and has reportedly partnered well with scrumhalf Hundley. However, if Bennett can return to the line-up this weekend NYAC has one of the best playmakers in the domestic game.

For NYAC it could come down to their physicality. Players like Brakeley, Kelly, and McFarland are known as hard-nosed tacklers and won't be afraid to toss it up with the Huns. That physicality has paid off big time for the team during the year. NYAC were perfect in the Atlantic North this year going 8-0 as well as picking some some big friendly wins over Rocky Gorge and Life. They did suffer a set back a few weeks ago, however, as they lost to Old Blue 42-17. Still, they turned it around in the regional round with a solid 32-14 win over Mystic River and a 27-5 win over the Chicago Lions.

It's worth bearing repeating that this match is very unlikely to be a blowout. It's true that the Huns have blow past a lot of teams this year, including some very solid teams in the West regional, but they haven't been untouchable. NYAC is a tough gritty team that loves to defend and could take the Huns out of much of what they want to do. All in all it has the makings of a classic.

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