Talk about achieving greatness and doing it in a fashion that was nothing short of brilliant. When Old Puget Sound Beach (OPSB) got to Connaught Park in Vancouver, BC the team had a mission - to not only compete, but win.
On Saturday, five teams witnessed, in awe, just exactly what they could do.
The first game of the elite bracket of the Vancouver 7s saw Beach face Bayside Ambassadors and was all OPSB from start to finish 41-0. It started with a quick try from Mike Nelson. Quickly thereafter, Isimeli Daveta got the ball on the wing, stutter-stepped a defender, and was off to put OPSB up 14-0. And for the next 10 minutes, it was more of the same with Beach managing to squeeze in four more tries before the final whistle blew to end the bleeding for Bayside.
OPSB matched up against defending Vancouver 7s champs Burnaby Lake in the next game. Though Burnaby Lake was the first to put up points, OPSB settled in for a 40-7 thrashing. Winger Alipate Tuilevuka scored his first of three tries, while Nolan Allen broke an impressive run by breaking two tackles en route to a much-deserved try. Tuilevuka then scored back-to-back tries with excellent ball movement to put the game away with less than two minutes to play. After the game, Coach Evan Haigh seemed to be confident, but also cautious about the road ahead.
“Even with two victories like these, I knew we hadn’t really achieved anything yet,” Haigh told RUGBYMag.com. “Offensively we were up to par, but defensively I wanted to make sure we make our presence known and keep setting ourselves higher goals.”
Those chickens almost came home to roost in the next game, OPSB’s closes. The Young Bucks from British Columbia scored first on a brilliant try from their talented back line. Tuilevuka then worked his magic again after a superb pass from 7s legend and OPSB coach Waisale Serevi to dart for his fourth try of the day. Then, an unexpected try put a kink in Beach’s winning formula. The Young Bucks sneaked in a score to cut the halftime lead to 14-10.
However, Beach didn’t show any signs of panic.
When the second half started, OPSB put away any confidence the Young Bucks may have had going in. Nolan Allen scored two tries in a row to put OPSB up 21-10 with just a few minutes of play. Then Miles Craigwell saw a lane between two Young Buck defenders, hit it and never looked back on his way to a 45-meter try for a 28-10 lead. The Young Bucks would put up one more try, but OPSB was too far ahead to be concerned.
With an undefeated record in three games, and hardly being challenge, OPSB rolled into the semifinals with no significant injuries, but still with something to prove. Playing a Fijian-loaded South Sea Connection (SSC) squad, OPSB had its work cut out for them, but walked away with a 24-7 victory.
USA 7s player Craigwell posted yet another great run off a ruck to get Beach on the board early. SSC then showed a little trickery of their own, with fancy footwork on the outside and outpacing their OPSB opponents to equal the score at 7-7. OPSB went back to its pattern with quick scores by both Craigwell and Allen, which put the game away before halftime. Tuilevuka would add his to already impressive try-scoring total by outmuscling two SSC defenders to the tryline.
Beach was in the final, but facing their 5th game of the day after a four-hour drive to the tournament, they were flagging a little. The final, against the Tiger Sharks, would be tough.
Out of Vancouver Island, the Tiger Sharks handled the Young Bucks 29-12 to reach the final and looked to be stern competitors.
But OPSB once again made it look easy once again, winning 38-15.
The Tiger Sharks started off quickly for a 5-0 lead. Then OPSB showed their poise and experience with yet another try from winger Alipate Tuilevuka. USA 7s player Nu'uese Punimata, back in action after an injury suffered at the USA 7s in Las Vegas in February, was next. He got to the edge then cut back in to make two Tiger Shark defenders miss. Tuilevuka would once again reach the tryline before halftime by dragging a Tiger Shark defender 10 meters to put Beach up 19-5.
Tuilevuka scored again for his ninth try just after the half to take any chance the Tiger Sharks had of making s comeback. Both Mike Nelson and Craigwell scored in between a late try by the Tiger Sharks to seal off the victory and a miraculous run by OPSB.
“I was really proud of the way the guys played,” said Haigh. “We got through some challenges (injury and a red card) and defensively we shaped up a little more. I’m really glad we got this tournament, but now it’s time to prepare for the next.”
Man of the Match Pate Tuilevuka, just recently named in Eddie O’Sullivan’s pool of 50 players for the 15s World Cup, said it was a pure team effort.
“They made me look good,” said the leading try-scorer. “It was a whole team effort, I got a lot of clean passes from everyone and I was just lucky to be able to finish them in the try zone. I’m just looking forward to playing some of these guys again on the international level”
Still relatively new to rugby, and brand new to the OPSB team, Craigwell had nothing but praise and smiles for winning for his tournament.
“It feels really good to be a part of this and have so many of the guys take me under their wing and teach me the ropes,” Craigwell said. “This last year has been a whirlwind, going from the NFL to rugby, to get myself into rugby condition and slimming myself down, and going through the [IRB] circuit and getting to play all different teams and meet a lot of great people.”
OPSB 41 Bayside Ambassadors 0
OPSB 40 Bayside 7
OPSB 28 Young Bucks 15
OPSB 24 South Sea Connection 7
Final: OPSB 38 Tiger Sharks 15