-By Liam Madigan-Fried
Raptors and Huns on MRC Collison Course
Two of the most dominant teams in American Rugby are set to go head to head for the second time in the Major Rugby Championship. The Austin Huns (led by Coach Eugene Eloff) prepare to host the Glendale Raptors (led by Coach Dave Williams) on Saturday, April 15th, in Austin, Texas.
Each team is riding high into this one. The Huns, after collapsing versus Glendale back in February to the tune of 41-10, have won their last four straight, defeating fellow MRC competitors NOLA Rugby and the Rugby Utah Select XV, along with Red River Conference rivals the Dallas Harlequins and the Dallas Reds.
Meanwhile, if you wanted to find the last time the Raptors lost, you’d have to go all the way back to May 3rd, when their squad fell to the Pacific Premiership’s ever-dominant San Francisco Golden Gate team 32-20. Since then, Dave Williams’ band of ruggers has enjoyed victories over the likes of Life West University, BYU, and Rugby Utah.
So just what exactly is it going to take for the Huns to deliver the Raptor’s Elite their first loss in nearly a year? Simple (or not so simple), they need to create enough offense to take the pressure off their better defensemen.
“We did not arrive at that game” Says Huns Coach Eloff when asked about their most recent bout with the Colorado team. “Execution was bad on attack and also (on) defense.” Although their defense did begin to falter in the second half of that game, it was hardly their biggest issue from the outset.
What ultimately caused the Huns’ downfall in February was their wings’ lack of ability to create plays and sustain any phases themselves. Unable to get any fluid passing game going due to constant drops and knock-ons, along with being late to the ruck following most tackles resulting in costly turnovers, the Huns had to rely on a ‘ground and pound’ style of play by their scrummies to advance the ball, which was quickly exposed by the Raptors and their speedy backs to be an unstainable game plan.
(Though to be fair, both squads were absolutely dreadful in the turnover and penalty department. Seriously, I think I’ve seen less knock-ons in a D4-NSCRO match…that I played in)
This time around, the Huns have to find a way to keep both phases of the game, offense and defense, consistent through eighty-minutes if they hope to come away with the victory. There’s no doubt the Texas unit has the talent for it, as well as possessing unquestionable leadership in Captain Lomani Tongotongo.
“Lomani is one of the most unique, special captains I have ever coached.” Said Eloff of his team’s leader. “He is a quiet, soft spoken person that the players listen to, and he leads by example.” Always known as a class-act on the pitch, Tongotongo is perhaps even better known as an explosive force when he gets the ball in space, pairing a raw intensity with graceful footwork.
Lomani isn’t the only man that players, fans, and especially coaches hope to see on the pitch come Saturday. The Huns’ usual Scrum-Half, Michael Reid, went down with a leg injury (twice in fact) April, 1st again Rugby Utah. The Huns saw Aaron Doan step in to replace him admirably against Dallas, but they hope things will be different this week.
“I will make a call regarding Michael Reid tomorrow evening at training, but he seems to be ok to play.” Says Eloff. “If he can’t, I might have a surprise inclusion at 9.” Who (or what, I’m kind of hoping for a rugby Air-Bud type situation) that surprise inclusion could be is anyone’s guess. It’s quite possible that the Huns D2 Scrum-Half Carlos Alvarez gets the call-up, or it could be a more familiar face in Joedee Reyes. Then again, Tim Tebow anyone?
Austin has all the tools necessary to succeed this weekend. If they can find some consistency in the passing game on the outside while simultaneously containing the speed and agility of the Glendale backs, this game has ‘REVENGE’ written all over it.
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