Relief for Victorious Blackjacks
By Alex Goff (Pat Clifton photo)
Las Vegas won their opening match of the 2011 season in Southern California, and you might have heard the sigh of relief emanating from Nevada.
The club has undergone some significant changes since winning last season's DI club title. Coach Jason Kelly moved to Denver, star Seta Tuilevuka took a pro contract in France. And star Mike Palefau is still pondering a move to the Utah Warriors.
All of those losses hurt, with perhaps Kelly's move, following on the heels of the tragic death of his young son, having the farthest-reaching effects within the club.
"We will wait and see on Mike," said Las Vegas player-coach Tom Carter. "It was great to see Seta elevate to the next level. And we have firmly cemented our relationship with Montpelier. Denver is home to his Jason's wife, Consuela, so being closer to family was a must for Jason and his family. He will be missed, but of course we wish him the best of luck and Jason will achieve whatever he wants to. We had such an emotional season last year. It was great to win the nationals, but then for Jason to lose his son a few weeks later was just so difficult and the rugby community was just devastated in Las Vegas."
The club, of course, has to move on and look ahead, and now after winning their opening match, the confidence, if it ever wavered, is as strong as ever. The Blackjacks added former Cal captain and USA prop Eric Fry, who reads the game well in the loose and is still learning his craft at prop. Lock/flanker Nick Rangel from University of Wyoming was the team's MVP against Santa Barbara. And another Cal grad, Ryan Taylor, is also making an impact.
"The game at the weekend could not have gone any better considering our travel problems," explained Carter. "We usually travel the night before, but had to travel Saturday morning. We took three vans down, but one of the vans broke down. So kickoff was delayed until 3pm! We arrived in Santa Barbara at 2.55pm with just two vans and just 17 players. We rolled out of the vans and straight into the game. No warm-up or even a stretch. So a win with a bonus point under those circumstances was satisfying."
Carter had to step in at scrumhalf after an injury.
"The two subs we had were props," he said. "We started slow and had some guys playing out of position, so it took us about 20 minutes to get into the game. Although that's not unusual for Vegas. We had some great phases and created some nice opportunities in the game. But we also had some awful rugby. Santa Barbara are a very young side, and they had two nice breakaway tries and their one-on-one tackles were good. Hopefully they can build on their performance and build some confidence."
So a win for Vegas under trying circumstances, but a win nonetheless.
"We have a lot of work to do," said Carter, who will be happy to step down as head coach once the club finds a long-term replacement. "We have a different team and are trying to develop our players skills and decision-making. The Blackjacks are looking forward to defending our title this Season. It will be tough, but we always love a challenge in Las Vegas."
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Posted by Las Vegas Blackjacks Rugby at 5:28 PM