Welcome back, Women’s Premier League Rugby.
After being sidelined for two full seasons due to COVID-19, the top division in American women’s rugby came back in full force for the 2022 campaign with a grueling 10-week schedule that showed off the country’s top female players—including some who’ll likely be seen playing for the US national team at the Rugby World Cup later this year in New Zealand.
But before that happens, there are scores to settle at the club level with the WPL Championship. The three-day event is being held at the Chicago Blaze Rugby Complex in Lemont, Illinois from June 24-26.
With all of the league’s clubs pouring into suburban Chicago for what’s to be a tense weekend of rugby, everyone has something to play for—but some have more at stake.
Here’s a breakdown on what to expect ahead of the tournament being streamed live on FloRugby.
A weekend chock-full of women’s rugby will take place at the Chicago Blaze Rugby Complex with each of the WPL’s 10 teams getting two days of competition as part of a high-octane, fast-paced showdown in the Midwest.
The tournament’s format is structured so that the league’s two conferences (Red and Blue) will take on the corresponding opposition judged by placement in the league’s regular-season table.
Those games will take place all of Friday, but the last two of the day will be ones to watch out for as they act as de-facto semifinal matches for Sunday’s final day. First at 3:30 pm Friday, Red’s top team—New York Rugby Club—will take on Blue’s runner-up in the Life West Gladiatrix.
The winner will then take on Sunday the victor of the 5:30 pm Friday’s finale against Red’s runner-up (the Colorado Gray Wolves) and the winners of the Blue Conference, the Berkeley All Blues.
The clubs in attendance have been waiting hundreds of days to get at each other once again for a shot at silverware, and the late games Friday and Sunday will no doubt feature some of the best women’s rugby on offer in the United States.
New Look, Same Great Rugby?
In the past decade, there’s been a name synonymous with success in American women’s club rugby: the Glendale Merlins. The suburban Denver-based team, which started life in the WPL as the Glendale Raptors in 2012, was unquestionably the squad to beat across a six-year stretch from 2014-19 as the Merlins won three titles. Not only that, but they’re also defending champions from way back in 2019 when they beat the Life West Gladiatrix at home to make it three trophies in less than a decade of playing in the league.
Things have changed just a little bit since then—Glendale rebranded prior to the 2022 season to the Gray Wolves after their partnership with the city ended in early 2020. But despite the change in identity, Colorado’s standards have remained the same through the current regular season.
The team ended up finishing second on 32 points in Red Conference—posting the league’s top point differential at +258, as well—setting the Gray Wolves up, only two wins from retaining their WPL title.
Coached by all-time US women’s national rugby team cap leader and USA Rugby Hall of Famer Jamie Burke, there’s plenty of pedigree to the WPL’s revamped side from the Rocky Mountains, too.
New York Rugby Club Aims For Return To Glory
There’s an old stalwart of the WPL that has something to say this season about Colorado’s run of dominance. Before Glendale, there was New York Rugby Club, a legendary squad that has both been in existence in some form since 1929 (as a men’s club) and was a founding member of the WPL in 2009, winning the league’s first two titles before going on to capture another crown in 2017.
Now, the club can boast about the fact that they won the Red Conference this season with a near-flawless (7-1-0 overall) record entering the Championship, putting them in the best position of the field to push toward what would be a WPL-record fourth championship.
Getting past a Life West Gladiatrix team in one of the Friday nightcaps won’t be an easy task, especially as the Californians hope to improve upon their WPL Championship final loss in 2019, their debut season in the league.
But as a national-team factory that should have players competing at the top stages in world women’s rugby later this year—including fullback Tess Fuery—New York cannot be taken lightly in Chicagoland next weekend. If it is, the rest of the Championship is in for a world of hurt on the rugby pitch.