Rugby ATL hosts Rugby United New York in the MLR Eastern Conference Final at Life University on July 24 at 8 pm ET. The match will be broadcast on CBS Sports Network and internationally on The Rugby Network.
Rugby ATL ended the regular season in first place with an 11-5 record and 57 points, while Rugby United New York’s record was 10-6 and 53 points. Their records were second and fourth in the league, respectively.
General Manager/Head Coach Scott Lawrence has made seven starter changes and one addition in the reserves from last week’s 22-19 road loss to New England.
Five of the starters were rested last week, with Marko Janse Van Rensburg back at hooker, Johan Momsen pairing with Marno Redellinghuys, who was a replacement, at lock, Rowan Gouws, Bautista Ezcurra, and Robbie Petzer at scrumhalf, flyhalf, and the inside center, respectively. Austin White, who was a replacement last Sunday, is at fullback.
Daemon Torres, a back row, returns to the matchday roster as a replacement. ATL has elected a 6/2 split with the front row covered with Neethlin Gericke at hooker, Alex Maughan at loosehead prop, and Manasa Saulo at tighthead prop. Canadian international Conor Keys is a lock and Vili Helu is in the back row.
Scrumhalf Ryan Rees and flyhalf/fullback Kurt Coleman, are the only back reserves.
Rugby ATL’s roster is poised for a bruising battle. They like to play in their opponent’s territory and are second in MLR with 53.88%. Their defense is quick to the breakdown and is first in the MLR with turnovers won (90) and third in the league in points conceded (321). They are third in turnover tackles (66), and fifth in tackles broken (336).
ATL likes to have two players on the tackle and plays excellent cover defense, which often leads to counterattacks.
The team does make handling errors (11th with 212) and is fourth in the MLR in penalties conceded (189).
Look for ATL to hold their own in the set-pieces and to score from tactical kicking which allows the team to attack from close range.
In Week 18, Chance Wenglewski (loosehead prop) and Ryan Nell (inside center) were named to the Geico XV.
Rugby United New York
Head Coach Maty Veale has had to contend with utilizing the entire team to cover when players were missing due to injury, internationals, and early departure.
There are three changes in the starters from last week’s playoff-clinching match and narrow 35-32 loss to NOLA Gold.
Evan Mintern returns at blindside flanker with Hanco Germishuys moving to No.8. This move was necessitated due to a red card that was given to Kara Pryor.
Harry Bennett moves to flyhalf in place of Dan Hollinshead, who returned to New Zealand for his contracted Mitre Cup season. Fa’asiu Fuatai is at the outside center after a week’s absence due to an ankle turn.
There are also two changes in the reserves. Kyle Sumsion is a back-row, who is an offensive threat, as well as a punishing tackler. Chris Mattina, who can play any of the back positions except scrumhalf, also can kick at goal.
Other forwards replacements include Rob Irimescu, a hooker/back-row, loosehead prop James Rochford, tighthead prop Kirk Hamilton, and lock Charlie Hewitt. Back reserves include scrumhalf Conor McManus and Joe Miranda on the wing.
The Eastern Conference Final is shaping up to be a chess match. Fijian Sevens Apensia Cakaubalavu, could punish tiring defending with his slashing runs and decisive tackles.
New York is first in offloads (141), and third in MLR in points for (448), despite being eighth in territory percentage (47.89). They are also third in turnover tackles.
The team plays the ball quickly and has an excellent red-zone defense. Dylan Fawsitt is among the leading try scorers and Andy Ellis is one of the try assist leaders. Unfortunately, the team lost the total points leader in Dan Hollinshead.
Look for the team to utilize tactical kicking to keep ATL’s swamping defense in line, and use set pieces to score along with the quick ball to create line breaks.
The last time the teams played, an uncalled high tackle by Marno Redelinghuys had Andy Ellis landing awkwardly and missing three weeks to a high ankle sprain.
New York is familiar with being in the playoffs. In 2019, in their first season, they came within a bounce of the ball against San Diego Legion of making it into the MLR Shield Final.
In other news, Ben Foden received the Players Player of the Year at the end-of-season awards ceremony. Samu Tawake (tighthead prop) was named to the Week 18 Geico XV.
Squads with Player Article Links
Rugby ATL: 1 Chance Wenglewski 2 Marko Janse van Rensburg 3 Wikus Groenewald 4 Marno Redelinghuys 5 Johan Momsen 6 Connor Cook 7 Matt Heaton (cc) 8 Ross Deacon 9 Rowan Gouws 10 Bautista Ezcurra 11 Te Rangatira Waitokia 12 Robbie Petzer 13 Ryan Nell (cc) 14 Jeremy Misailegalu15 Austin White 16 Neethling Gericke 17 Alex Maughan 18 Manasa Saulo 19 Conor Keys 20 Vili Helu 21 Daemon Torres 22 Ryan Rees 23 Kurt Coleman
Rugby United New York: 1 Sak Taulafo 2 Dylan Fawsitt (C) 3 Samu Tawake 4 Nate Brakeley 5 Nick Civetta 6 Evan Mintern 7 Ben Bonasso 8 Hanco Germishuys 9 Andy Ellis 10 Harry Bennett 11 Apenisa Cakaubalavu 12 Will Leonard 13 Fa’asiu Fuatai 14 Quinn Ngawati 15 Ben Foden 16 Rob Irimescu 17 James Rochford 18 Kirk Hamilton 19 Charlie Hewitt 20 Kyle Sumsion 21 Conor McManus 22 Chris Mattina 23 Joel Miranda