King's Corner is a monthly column presented by 7s all-time-great Waisale Serevi, and his friends and coaches. Normally available only to subscribers, King's Corner this month will feature, in installments, previews of the Serevi RugbyTown Sevens for all RUGBYMag.com readers.
In the lead up to the upcoming Serevi RugbyTown Sevens (SRS) tournament held at Glendale, Colorado’s beautiful Infinity Park August 17-18, the experts at Serevi Rugby are taking a look at each of the four Pools to give RugbyMag readers a snapshot of each team, expectations, and players to keep an eye on. This year’s tournament figures to be an amazing weekend of rugby, featuring a range of 17 teams from across the U.S. and the world battling it out for the title, a $10,000 in cash prize, and an invite to the Bayleys Fiji Coral Coast Sevens in November.
We start in this edition with the competitive Pool A, made up of some familiar teams and some rising stars in American rugby. Keep your eyes out for the other Pool previews in the coming days and weeks before the SRS.
The USA Falcons, typically the shadow brand for the Eagles national 7s team, come into Glendale with a different player profile than in recent years. While technically the defending tournament champions, this year the usual Eagle players won't be playing at the SRS as they will be in Twickenham playing in the World Club 7s during the same period.
This year’s SRS team will be made up of a group of younger players – likely the youngest side in the tournament. Coached by Serevi Rugby’s Aaron Manheimer (2007 National Champion coach of the Chicago Lions), the Falcons will feature College or Club players that are emerging on the scene and have potential to break into either the All-Americans or the Eagles.
With this level of young talent, this year’s version of the Falcons should offer a real preview of what’s to come in American rugby. Up-and-coming players to watch include:
- Local athlete Ben Pinklemen of Colorado State University and the Denver Barbarians who has been on the radar of USA Rugby Age Grade National Teams for quite some time. He competed for a spot on this year's U-20 team, but was unable to participate due to illness.
- Jack McAuliffe, a sophomore at the U.S. Naval Academy, is a former High School All-American star out of Gonzaga High School in Washington D.C. He joins the Falcons after an outstanding performance at the CRC 7s in Philadelphia. Tall and rangy with excellent skills, Jack also possesses many leadership qualities that will help this team.
- 18-year-old Sondai “Sonny” Adjei joins the Falcons as the youngest player on the team who is headed off as an incoming freshman at Davenport University this fall. Sonny has been playing with the Chicago Lions during the summer season, which is quite an accomplishment as Chicago is a very difficult team to break into, especially for an 18-year-old.
- Tim Acker is the first 4-year All-American in Kutztown University history and is a tough and speedy halfback. Acker pushes defenses with quick attack and has the skills to expose weaknesses.
- Steyne Benade returns to the SRS for the second straight year, after competing for the All-Americans last summer. Look for the Arkansas State product to contain the opposition with solid defense.
Without coming off as too biased in our reporting on this team so close to our hearts, we’ll cautiously say the Serevi Selects always have the firepower to be dangerous in any 7s tournament including in RugbyTown. Coached by the “King of 7s” Waisale Serevi himself, the team is made up of a combination of former international stars including all-time IRB try scorer Ben Gollings and Fijian Emosi Vucago, as well as a newly developing crop of players in the U.S. Olympic pathway as part of the Serevi Academy in Seattle.
Fed by players from the Seattle Old Puget Sound Beach club, Serevi Selects is now serving as a solid developmental hub for USA Rugby in both 7s and 15s. The clubs renewed admission to the British Columbia Rugby Union has created a venue affording rugby players a professional-grade volume of games and level of competition. Serevi Selects are also the defending Las Vegas International tournament champs, so they have the experience needed to get Cup-worthy results
Northeast Rugby Olympic Development Academy
This team is also the product of USA Rugby’s Olympic Development Plan (ODP), pulling players from the Empire Rugby Olympic Development Academy out of New York and New England Rugby Olympic Development Academy. Given the pool of talent in that part of the country, there are many “Possibles” for the next edition of the USA Rugby 7s national team.
Northeast Rugby ODA is headed by an impressive leadership group including Director Sean Horan, who runs the NRU 7’s series, and a coaching staff made up of IRB Level 3 coach, Stephen Lewis and former USA 7’s Eagle Marcus Respes in New York, as well as Middlesex’s Joshua Smith and former Eagle John McGeachy in New England.
The team was assembled through trials held in May and June with players selected from 24 clubs and universities across the Northeast. Northeast Rugby ODA has already cracked the Top 10 in 7s club rugby showing that the mix of talent and leadership capable of making strides quickly.
Players to watch coming out of the Northeast include:
- Long Island Wing Michael St Clair, who is still a bit raw, but was a monster for Long Island during the circuit with his great combination of speed and power. Michael could have a breakout weekend in Glendale.
- Old Blue Prop Jordan Badia-Bellinger travelled to New Zealand earlier this summer with the U.S. All-Americans and upon his return burst right into Old Blue line-up. His breakdown work and explosive running should turn some heads at Infinity Park.
- Middlesex’s Flyhalf/Center Jared Collinson has had breakout season in both 7s and IVs, leading Middlesex to Nationals runs in each competition. His strengths lie in his amazingly quick feet and solid defense.
The ODP scheme envisioned by USA Rugby is working with this and other similar programs, identifying and pushing the nation’s top talent against their peers, with opportunities like the SRS on the forefront of opportunities to put practice into play for these young athletes.
Royal Air Force
Known as The Spitfires, the boys on the Royal Air Force team were born with a rugby ball in hand and bring an experienced and strong team to Glendale. They ended 2012 on quite a roll, winning six straight tournaments near the end of the season.
The Spitfires 2013 season is off to a strong start, having recently lifted their third straight Kolkata Cup through monsoon conditions in India, finding the Cup quarterfinals at the Bournemouth Festival 7s in May, and getting bumped out only in the semi-finals at Rugby Rocks Edinburgh in June.
The team brings experience about winning in the States, and specifically in Glendale, having playing the inaugural International Defense Forces 7s tournament last August also held at Infinity Park. You never can count out a tough-minded, disciplined team who has known the game of rugby since birth.