BOULDER, Colo. – Pools have been announced for the 2014 USA Rugby Club 7s National Championship at Seattle’s Starfire Sports Complex. Beginning Monday, all four pools on both the men’s and women’s competition will be previewed. Today, we take a closer look at Pools A and B on the men’s side.
Pool A: Seattle-OPSB, New Orleans Royale, Schuylkill River and Kansas City Blues
Pool A may just win the overused moniker ‘Pool of Death’ simply because the draw includes defending Club 7s National Champion Seattle-OPSB. The powerhouse from the great northwest is widely considered a favorite to repeat as champion, and with this year’s event taking place in Seattle, OPSB’s road to a record seventh Club 7s National Championship became slightly less rocky.
Seattle’s world-class training environment and affiliation with Serevi Rugby has helped lure IRB World Series veterans like Miles Craigwell, Shalom Suniula and Kevin Swiryn, each of whom will take the field for Seattle this weekend.
Even though Seattle’s roster – full of capped Eagles – gets to stay right at home for Nationals, don’t expect the rest of the crowd in Pool A to be the least bit intimidated. New Orleans came close to winning a 15s National Championship at the end of May before falling to an excellent Life University side. NOLA may not be pleased with its performance against Life, but that is not what is motivating the boys from the Bayou.
“These guys really switch gears as soon as the 15s season is over,” explained NOLA coach Trip McCormick. “I think more than anything they were disappointed with their showing at Nationals last year in sevens. I think much more than anything that happened in our 15s season this year, it’s last year’s finish in sevens that feeds the hunger, which is definitely there.”
Schuylkill River’s reward for being the No. 1 qualifier out of the Mid-Atlantic Region was a spot in this decorated pool. River took two of three Finals showdowns against the Maryland Exiles while also competing in two North-Atlantic tournaments, placing second and fourth against the likes of Old Blue and NYAC.
River has been injected with talented graduates from Kutztown in recent years, including 2013-14 Sevens All-American Bruce Dolan. Although young in age, the team’s captain, Pat Boyle, has National Championship experience to spare, as he is playing in his seventh Club 7s Championship.
The Blues survived a three-team battle for two spots in Nationals over the summer. In a must-win scenario, Kansas City doubled-up the Glendale Raptors at the Omaha 7s Qualifier to secure their place at Nationals. The Blues would have liked to get on the pitch with competitive sides outside of their region this summer, but are still confident in their abilities heading into Nationals.
Known as a squad that plays as a team, the Blues’ Ed Mills is a dynamic player who gives Kansas City a dangerous attacker.
Pool B: Old Blue, Belmont Shore, 1823 and Maryland Exiles
Outside of this grouping, no pool has multiple teams which have won National Championships in sevens. Three clubs from this draw hold sevens titles, with 1823 the only team lacking the accomplishment.
Old Blue has benefited from a deeper and more talented region in the Northeast. Besides rival New York Athletic Club, Old Blue tested its deep roster against improving New England Prime and New Haven Bulldogs.
There is no question Old Blue has the athletes to come out of Pool B, but the lack of time these tremendous individuals have had on the pitch together this summer may be a concern. The roster prepping for Nationals has yet to share the field together, while Old Blue stalwarts Marcus Henderson and Derek Lipscomb have spent time training at the Olympic Training Center, and Nate Augspurger has missed time due to injury. However, Old Blue will have their full compliment of players in Seattle, including a fiery edge-runner in Luke Hume.
Belmont Shore isn’t long removed from a dominating run from 2009 to 2012, where the boys from Long Beach won three National Championships in sevens. The club’s success over the years has instilled lofty expectations that few teams mirror.
“Anything besides a championship is a failure,” admitted player/coach Peter Sio. “Last year we won the Plate, and it was a failure.”
Never known as a soft team, Sio is impressed with his team’s size and says the squad is much more physical than it was last year. While Shore has broken in some young, local talent this summer, they will still be receiving outstanding play from international utility back Mike Teo.
Like Belmont, 1823 is an affiliate of Tiger Rugby and has benefitted from the organization’s training and development program. The improvements on the pitch are apparent, but still not enough to steal the Midwest’s No. 1 seed from the Chicago Lions. The two sides met in the Finals four times this summer, with the Lions outlasting 1823 in three of those matches.
Similarly to several teams at Nationals, 1823 had a number of players invited to the recent elite camp in Chula Vista, Calif., and will continue to be evaluated by USA Rugby’s High Performance staff in Seattle.
The 2014 Club 7s National Championship will mark the final tournament played by the Maryland Exiles. After a recent merger with nearby Potomac Athletic Club, Maryland will play under the club name Potomac Exiles heading into the fall. The merger will surely benefit the No. 2 seed from the Mid-Atlantic Region down the road, but it has made for an adjustment period this summer with new players getting to know one another on the pitch.
A couple of college-grade players have added needed speed for the Exiles this summer, but it’s still a group of former USA Eagles who anchor Maryland. Another to keep an eye on will be Chris Mahoney, who comes to the Exiles by way of New Zealand. The former Super Rugby player has also been assisting in the coaching duties since coming with Maryland.
The 2014 USA Rugby Emirates Airline Club 7s National Championships will be hosted at Starfire Sports Complex Aug. 9-10. All matches will be streamed live on USA Rugby TV. Tickets are available at $10 for a one-day pass or $15 for a two-day pass. Family four-packs are also available for $50 and include four two-day passes. Purchase tickets to #Club7s and find out more information regarding ancillary events at the Tukwila, Wash., complex on the Club 7s event page.