The first of two Southern California 7s qualification tournaments kicks off Saturday in Santa Monica. The second is a week after, hosted by Belmont Shore. The winner of each tournament advances to National 7s Club Championships August 6-7 in San Francisco.
New eligibility regulations limit clubs to qualifying just one team to Nationals, however, so Belmont will not have the chance to repeat their 2010 feat of taking two.
Belmont Shore will be the favorite in their home tournament, but a rash of unavailability has them weakened for Santa Monica. Matt Hawkins, Dallen Stanford and Alex Ross are working the Elite Rugby Camp in Stanford, Tai Enosa is out with a sore back, Shalom Suniula is nursing a slight injury, Justin Boyd hasn’t arrived in Long Beach yet and Duncan Kelm is playing with the All Americans in Santa Barbara.
In all, that’s six Eagles and an All American who won’t be suiting up for Belmont Shore Saturday, but could be a week later.
“This weekend’s really tough. Nothing’s guaranteed, with all those guys missing,” said Belmont Shore coach James Walker. “I’m sure OMBAC and Santa Monica are licking their chops, but that’s fine. It gives my second guys a chance to shine.”
Belmont’s batch of “second guys” still has more firepower left in the cupboard than some Nationals-aspiring teams had to begin with. Longtime Belmont stalwarts Peter Dahl and Peter Sio will be booting up, as will Toshi Palamo and Taylor Howden.
Howden led Glendale to a Nationals berth in 2009, and after spending a year with the Denver Barbarians, has taken his talents to Long Beach. If a weakened Belmont is to qualify in Santa Monica, Howden will have to factor in greatly.
OMBAC has played Belmont on multiple occasions already this summer, coming up short each time. If there’s a prime opportunity to knock off their rival, it’s Saturday.
The San Diego club, which boasts more 7s National titles than any other club, hasn’t made the National quarterfinals since 2007. But instead of importing talent from around the country for the summer, they’ve decided to rebuild from within.
“We don’t want to have kids who are making it to every practice or coming out to every function get run off by some all stars coming in, and I believe really strongly in the chemistry of these guys sweating, bleeding and getting the snot run out of them and being there every practice and going through that struggle together,” said OMBAC coach Craig Hartley.
“I think it brings them together. That’s what OMBAC’s about, and also creating Eagles. Instead of just having Eagles, we like to make new ones. It’s unfortunate, we’ve lost a few (like Ross to Belmont) because of that. They become Eagles and they decide to move onto greener pastures, and that’s their opportunity. We wish them the best. We’re just going to try and make some more and create some more behind them.”
Also vying for a berth to Nationals Saturday are Belmont and OMBAC’s second sides, as well as Santa Monica and South Bay or a second Santa Monica side.