Super League Preview - Blue Conference
Brian Lowe
March 12, 2003

San Francisco's picturesque Balboa Park is the venue for this year's USA Rugby Super League Championship game and a lot of rugby will be played between now and then to decide which two teams make it to American rugby's domestic showpiece.

In this preview we look at the Blue Conference. Defending champs the Gentlemen of Aspen will be striving for an unprecedented three-peat, but should be tested all the way by the likes of the Kansas City Blues, OMBAC and perhaps the Dallas Harlequins, or the Potomac Athletic Club.

The New York Athletic Club, the Olympic Club and Boston RFC all fell short of the mark in 2002 and will be looking to turn their form around to improve their records this year.

Reigning champions Aspen have retained the nucleus of the team that has won the last two championships in a row. Gone is the evergreen Mark Williams who retired after last year's victory, although he'll be assisting coach Brian Going and may even run on as a replacement if needed.

Just about all of the championship-winning team is back including US Eagle Alec Parker, captain Jason Walker, Eagle pool flyhalf Dean Walsh, Paddy O'Brien, ex-Eagle wing Brian Hightower and Chris Morrow. Aspen also has two new signings in Philadelphia prop Deir DiFrancio and hooker Damien Flynn, who was on the ACT Brumbies squad last year, so once again the Gents will be one of the teams to beat.

Trying to do just that will be a ramped-up Kansas City Blues looking to shed their playoff bogie. After solid regular seasons in 2001 and 2002, the Blues were knocked out at the semi-final and quarter-final stages respectively. Leading the charge again this year will be veteran scrummie Vince Pastorino, along with point-scoring pivot Scott Kram and tough forward Eric Masterson.

The Blues pride themselves on being a homegrown team from the American heartland and are very positive about their chances. Head coach Bob Telfer, who coached NPC side Southland in New Zealand, is back for his third season with KC and will be bringing his customary professionalism to the club.

San Diego-based side OMBAC went all the way to the final in 2001, although the championship crown eluded them that year, and they made it as far as the semis last year. This year OMBAC has been rebuilding its roster because of a major player drain due to the war on terrorism. A lot of their guys have been called up for service, but if their southern California form is any guide, they should be a team to watch.

Led by Eagle pool forwards Conrad Hodgson and John Tarpoff, OMBAC can be expected to make another run at the playoffs. New signings eightman Henry Schaff (Australia) and flyhalf Rocky Matatumua (New Zealand) have made an impact with the club, while Alister Steele, one of the League's top point-scorers in 2002, is back, along with ex-Eagle Dave DiSorbo, center Jason Harper, flanker Dan Payne and prop Jason Wood.

The Dallas Harlequins have been tearing it up in Texas and hope to carry their winning form into Super League. Corne Cronje, Bret Pedersen, Matt Botha and Vaughn Crowe, who moved from Philadelphia-Whitemarsh in the off-season, will be among the players leading the charge. David Care and ex-Eagle flyhalf Matt Alexander, the League's third top point-scorer last year, are also back for another throw of the dice.

The Quins made the playoffs in 2002, only to fall at the quarter-final stage and that memory alone should be the impetus they need to spur them on.

The Potomac Athletic Club is a team that could surprise in 2003. While they'll feel the loss of former NSW hooker Mark Crick, who's playing overseas, several key players are back in the fold. Props Jesse Lapierre and Aaron Buehring, along with Tongan forward Dax Schmaukel will be in the wheelhouse.

PAC has depth at scrumhalf with ex-Eagle trialist Tom Kenney and former England U19 David Etches feeding the ball to flyhalf and Mr Reliable goal kicker Mike Fabling. The DC club also has speed on the outside with wingers Josh Stallings and Danzel van Zyl able to finish off what the engine room starts.

The New York Athletic Club is going into its second year in Super League and will be striving to improve on its 1-5 record in 2002, however, it has lost a couple of class players. Danny Bull has gone to Old Blue New York, while flanker Kevin Linzey has also moved on.

The upside is that NYAC has some good young prospects coming up such as flanker Frank Sharpe, who played for the USA U19s in the last Junior World Cup, and Mike McGeachy, a prop/hooker who just graduated from Penn State. Head coach Mike Tolkin feels that NYAC will be competitive and that the year under their belt in RSL will be a big plus.

The Olympic Club of San Francisco is another club entering only its second season of Super League and will be looking to rattle a few cages. Former Huntington Beach Unicorn Alex Walterspiel, now in his third year in the Bay Area, skippers the side from number eight. Packing down with him are Eagle Kort Schubert, Kevin Barth and Andrew McNaughton.

In the backs, ex-Eagle John Buchholz brings experience, as do USA 7s player Marc Vera and University of California, Berkeley winger David Guest. The O-Club's campaign will be directed by new head coach Rod Seddon who formerly coached at Wellington in New Zealand.

And finally there's the Boston RFC, a team on the rise. The club has had mixed fortunes in recent years, after enjoying winning seasons in 2000 and 2001, 2002 was a lean year with the beantowners winning just a solitary game.

Despite that, Boston has talent on its roster including the likes of youthful flyhalf Jason Trenouth. He may look like he's just out of college, but he has been developing into a very solid footballer in the last couple of seasons and was among the League's top twenty point-scorers last year. Niall Howlett is another player who always gives his all, as does Chris Stone. So, look for Boston to make the Blue Conference competitive.

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