PITTSBURGH, PA – The announcement of the merger of the Pittsburgh Rugby Club and the Pittsburgh Highlanders came four months ago, back in April, when both clubs were in the midst of their spring friendly seasons. Although the men’s clubs began supporting each other right away, they remained separate until Forge Day on May 19th when both sides played each other one last time before becoming one organization. During the summer, members from both clubs participated in the Forge’s summer 7 programs and really got their first taste of working with one another. The chemistry proved undoubtedly to be there as the Pittsburgh Forge’s Premier Men’s 7’s side was able to bring home the Cup Championship at this year’s Steel City 7’s Tournament, the most prestigious 7’s tournament in the region.
In late July, the club transitioned to fifteens and newly hired coaches, Stephen Walsh and Allan Murray, had their first opportunities to begin working with many of the Forge athletes. After only four trainings together, the Forge hosted Division 1 side Scioto Valley, and then just one week later, traveled to Wheeling Jesuit University to take on a powerhouse D1A collegiate program. This preseason schedule, after only six training sessions together, would have been difficult for even the most experienced Division 1 side, but the Forge wanted to test their mettle right out of the gate. Although they didn’t come away with any wins during the rigorous preseason, that wasn’t the point, or the goal. From each game the coaches were able to take away several positives as well as areas of focus all while trying to shuffle through sixty plus players to develop competitive Division 2 and Division 3 squads. Up until this past Thursday evening’s training, leading up to the regular season opener, a number of positions were still up for grabs, and competition may continue to be wide open throughout the first few weeks of the season. Regardless of how the individual rosters shake out, the Forge are finally ready to put it all on the field starting this weekend.
DIVISION 2 PREVIEW
The Forge will play a bit of a unique Division 2 schedule this fall. Since only two clubs make up the Midwest’s D2 Eastern Conference, both the Forge and the Cleveland Crusaders will play one another in a home at home series while playing six additional matches against Empire’s Upstate D2 Conference, a league that features two teams from Buffalo, a side from Syracuse and finally a side from Rochester, NY. To qualify as the Eastern seed in the Midwest Championship, the Forge must finish higher in the table standings than the Crusaders at the conclusion of league competition on October 27th.
To start the season, the Forge will host the Syracuse Chargers on August 25th. The Chargers went 3 – 5 in the Upstate Conference last season, but did not play Pittsburgh Rugby Club as part of last year’s crossovers. The Chargers were able to post convincing wins over South Buffalo and Rochester at home, but played a much closer game against South Buffalo in Buffalo and ultimately lost the match against the Aardvarks in Rochester. They also lost handily to the Fairfield Yankees, Buffalo Rugby Club twice, the Village Lions and Morris Rugby.
After a bye week over the Labor Day weekend, the Forge men will hit the road for their first significant travel game for the 2018 season as they travel to South Buffalo. South Buffalo went 0 – 8 last season in the Upstate Conference including a 55 – 34 loss to Pittsburgh Rugby Club in Pittsburgh. Other games of note for South Buffalo included narrow homes losses to Syracuse and Rochester but big time blowout losses at the hands of Buffalo Rugby Club and the Cleveland Crusaders.
Week 3 of the fall season may be one of the biggest weekends in the young Forge history as the men travel to Cleveland to take on the Crusaders. Last season, the Crusaders narrowly fell to Pittsburgh 29 – 22 when they were the travel side. Two late tries from Pittsburgh’s Chris Austin sealed the deal for City. The Crusaders would get their revenge in Cleveland, however, when the Crusaders defeated Pittsburgh 47 – 17 on September 30th. The Crusaders would go 4 – 4 last season losing to Detroit twice and once at Indianapolis. They would post large wins over Rochester and South Buffalo while narrowly beating Indianapolis in Cleveland.
The Forge will continue on the road for the third consecutive week as they travel to Rochester, NY to take on the Aardvarks. Rochester went 3 – 5 last season and was another Empire club who did not play Pittsburgh in any crossovers. They did post solid wins over Syracuse and South Buffalo twice, but lost big against the Crusaders and Detroit Tradesmen, ironically enough, the Aardvarks did compete well against Buffalo Rugby Club; losing narrowly in Buffalo, 31 – 27, and remaining competitive at home, losing 40 – 20.
Week 5 will see the Forge back in Pittsburgh for arguably their toughest match of the season, against Buffalo Rugby Club. The Bison have gone 26 – 6 over the past four seasons including one undefeated season and two seasons with only one loss. The only anomaly was the 2016 – 2017 Competitive Cycle when the Bison went 4 – 4. Last season, the Bison hosted Pittsburgh Rugby Club on October 21st and beat them in a competitive match 44 – 26. On their way towards a 7 – 1 season, the Bison posted big wins over South Buffalo and Syracuse while dropping a match to Detroit 68 – 10. The Bison qualified for Empire playoffs, but lost narrowly in the first round to the Village Lions 31 – 29.
After the bye week on October 6th, when the Forge will host their annual Golf Outing, the men will spend two weekends at home hosting return matches against the Crusaders and Aardvarks, respectively. Depending on how the table looks at that point, the October 13 match against the Crusaders could prove pivotal for the Forge’s hopes for a berth into the Midwest Championship. In addition to being potentially a huge match, October 13th will also be Club Day when all of the Forge’s sides will be home.
To close out the season, the Forge will travel to Syracuse on October 27th. If the Forge is able to play well enough to earn a spot in the Midwest Championship, they will have two weeks to prepare for the November 17th game that’s likely to be held in Chicago against a quality opponent from the Midwest’s Western Conference.
DIVISION 3 PREVIEW
With the merging of two Division 3 clubs, the Midwest D3 Eastern League looks a little different this year. Last season, the league was split into North and South sub-leagues with the North featuring two sides from Cleveland, Presque Isle (Erie, PA) and Akron and the South featuring Pittsburgh Rugby D3, the Highlanders, South Pittsburgh and Greensburg. Since the merger, Canton Rugby Club was brought into the Division 3 mix creating an “Ohio” sub-league with the Cleveland sides and Akron. This brought Presque Isle back into Pennsylvania to play in an “Allegheny” sub-league with the Forge, South Pittsburgh and Greensburg.
Each club will play within their sub-league home and away. This will seed the teams and begin playoffs with the top two seeds from each sub-league playing for a berth in the Midwest playoffs and the bottom two seeds playing out some consolation matches. If the Forge is able to win the league, they will then play the winners of the other Eastern Conference Leagues in a two game weekend over November 10th and 11th. The winner of the weekend would play the Western Conference Champions at the Midwest Championships on November 17th.
On August 25th, the Forge D3 will open up their season again the Greensburg Rugby Club. The Maulers went 1 – 5 last season picking up their only win narrowly against Pittsburgh Rugby D3 by a score of 21 – 19. They lost two games against the Highlanders by an aggregate score of 108 – 14 as well as both games to South Pittsburgh, although those games were much more competitive. The other loss was against Pittsburgh D3 in Pittsburgh, a close match much like the game they won, this time, 38 – 34.
After the Labor Day bye weekend, the Forge will be on the road traveling to Erie, PA to take on the Presque Isle Scallywags. In 2017, the Scallywags finished 2 – 4 with home wins over Akron Rugby and the Cleveland Rovers. Although very competitive in all of their losses, the Scallywags were swept by the Crusaders and lost both away games in Akron and at the Rovers. Presque Isle has not played either the Highlanders or Pittsburgh since reforming in 2016.
Week 3 will see the Forge travel to crosstown rival South Pittsburgh. South Pittsburgh has been neck and neck with Pittsburgh Rugby D3 over the past four seasons, going 4 – 3 – 1 since 2014. Their luck has been much worse against the Highlanders, however, losing all matches to them since 2014 and being outscored 431 to 124 over those eight games. With that being said, South Pittsburgh did post an impressive 4 – 2 record last season, losing to the Highlanders twice, but beating both Pittsburgh D3 and Greensburg twice.
The Forge will then travel for the third straight weekend, this time to Mt. Pleasant, PA to take on the Greensburg Maulers for a second time before coming home for two straight matches. On September 29, they will host the Presque Isle Scallywags before the bye week on October 6. Following the Golf Outing bye weekend, the Forge will host their rivals from South Pittsburgh at Club Day on October 13 and wait for league seeding. Eastern League playoffs will be held on October 20th and October 27th with locations dependent on seeding. If the Forge is able to win the league, they will have a bye on November 3rd before the Eastern Conference Playoffs on November 10th and 11th.
Pittsburgh Forge Men’s 2018 – 2019 League Schedule:
|Forge Division 2||Forge Men Division 3|
|August 25||v. Syracuse Chargers||v. Greensburg Maulers|
|September 1||BYE – Labor Day||BYE – Labor Day|
|September 8||at South Buffalo Rugby||at Presque Isle Scallywags|
|September 15||at Cleveland Crusaders||at South Pittsburgh Hooligans|
|September 22||at Rochester Aardvarks||at Greensburg Maulers|
|September 29||v. Buffalo Rugby Club||v. Presque Isle Scallywags|
|October 6||BYE – Golf Outing||BYE – Golf Outing|
|October 13*||v. Cleveland Crusaders||v. South Pittsburgh Hooligans|
|October 20||v. Rochester Aardvarks||Eastern League Playoffs|
|October 27||at Syracuse Chargers||Eastern League Championship|
|November 3||BYE – The Rugby Weekend||BYE – The Rugby Weekend|
|November 10||BYE||Eastern Conference Playoffs|
|November 17||Midwest Championship||Midwest Championship|