The USA Club Rugby Gulf Coast Super Regionals crowned 3 champions this past weekend, May 6 & 7 in Orlando, FL. Despite the moniker, the representative clubs at this event go beyond the gulf coasts of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida and extend along the Atlantic to Georgia and the Carolinas, as well reaching across the South into Tennessee, Kentucky, and Arkansas. Advancing from the region are Miami Tridents for Men’s Division 2, Knoxville Minx for Women’s Division 2, and Austin Blacks D3 for the Men’s Division 3.
Day 1 of the competition matched up what many were predicting as the possible top 2 men’s teams at the event, with returning 2022 National Champions Charlotte facing a New Orleans D2 side with a handful of MLR players. Charlotte’s aggressive defense yielded them 2 yellow cards in the match up and giving up 9 points alone on penalties, also giving the strong New Orleans side multiple opportunities to capitalize on the advantage of being up a player. Kenny Jinkins of NOLA Gold was the match-standout, with 2 tries to contribute to the final 37 to 5 in favor of New Orleans. On the opposite side, Tridents came out in front of a beefy San Antonio side in a much tighter match-up, with the Tridents scoring in the final minutes to win 24 to 21. This match was dominated by kicking, with 12 points on both sides from penalty kicks or drop goals alone.
Knoxville women returned as favorites and it was clear on Day 1 the speed of their backs and mid field running of their forwards would be hard to shut down, with Knoxville defeating Charleston 52 to 3. On the opposite pitch Tampa Krewe, looking to bust onto the national scene, went back and forth against Little Rock. The depth of the Krewe bench against the 19-player roster of Little Rock was too much in the end for the Stormers to keep pace in the last 30, final score 26 to 14. This set the stage for a Day 2 rematch from last year’s gulf coast regional of Krewe and Knoxville.
For Men’s D3 on Day 1, defending national champions Palm Beach were too much for the New Orleans D3 side, this one was a battle of the outside backs, with Dioumy Cadet on the wing scoring 2x for the Panthers and Keith Wright of New Orleans with their try of the day, final score 33 to 8 in favor of the men in pink. Charleston Outlaws made their first appearance at the Gulf Coast Regionals against a well-seasoned Austin Blacks D3 clubs. Charleston #8 Richard Dougherty scored early, with a quick reply from the Blacks #2 Hernandez. This was a back-and-forth match in the first half, but the Blacks had a lot of tools in their shed, with a mobile front row, fit back row, and the kicking of #15 Merriman putting them into the right spots on the pitch to attack. With the final score 31 to 17 in favor of Austin, and another rematch from Gulf Coast ’22 set for Day 2 of Gulf Coast ’23, would the experience of the Blacks (and a lot of grays) be able to counter the youth of Palm Beach in 2 days of play?
In the first match of Day 2, Austin Blacks were on the board early with #8 Dennis Walker, which was countered by the Palm Beach captain #5 Brett Stubbs. In a back-and-forth battle, at minute 52, #13 Von zur Muehlen from Austin pushed the Blacks in front 24 to 21, and a PK by PB at minute 60 tied the match. With a little less than 20 left, the Panthers lost their cool on their own attack less then 15M out from scoring, resulting in a red card. Despite the Panthers looking dangerous even a man-down, multiple factors gave Austin the lead - the domination of the experienced Austin pack, the kicking of Merriman and their outside backs, and the leadership of #12 captain “DC” David Comerford, with the final tackle breaking run of Tane Jericevich to score the final try – advancing the Blacks this year to St. Louis.
In the 2nd match of the day and second rematch from ’22, Knoxville #12 Stoneburner scored the first try of each half, with Knoxville having the lead most of the day at 13 to 0 until the 50th minute. Krewe were determined to not go down without a battle, putting up 2 tries and managing to contain the speed of US Eagle/Exeter Chiefs Jennine Duncan to only one try, a task in itself for any back 3. In the end, last year’s semi- finalist Knoxville will be the club getting to wear their red and black come June in the final 4, with Krewe putting up one of the tightest matches the Minx have seen all year, 23 to 12.
In the Men’s D2 final, New Orleans mixed up the line-up from Day 1, bumping veteran James Rehkopf, former LSU captain and Life alum, to the front row, and a few starters from Day 1 now on the bench. Miami scored the first two tries of the day, taking advantage of an early yellow card on New Orleans, and it looked like it may be an easier day than Saturday for the Tridents. New Orleans were soon on the board at 20 minutes with a try off a lineout maul, it would be near impossible to stop the heft of the New Orleans front row once they had gotten moving. The momentum shifted and New Orleans took the lead going into the half and looking like the match may now be theirs, 22 to 17. New Orleans stretched the lead off a PK, 25 to 17, and then the Tridents #7 nipped it back to 25 to 22 with 15 minutes remaining. Another New Orleans penalty/yellow card allowed the Tridents to match it up at 25, and we were in our first and only overtime of the weekend. New Orleans played down a man for the majority of the OT, with former UF captain outside center Kyle Burnett taking the lead for the Tridents at the end of the first half of OT. Even with a full complement in the 2nd five minutes, New Orleans just couldn’t put it together for more points, and the Tridents closed it out 30 to 25 to make it for the first time a Florida D2 club has seen the final 4 since Krewe won it all sometime a decade ago, making it worth it for Florida to host the region’s championship.
The Florida Rugby Union would like to thank everyone who attended, but especially all their volunteers and sponsors, including the UCF and Orlando Men’s and Women’s Clubs and alums, the city of Orlando, Booshie, and especially FRU GM Evan Haigh for all of his hard work to make the event happen.