The Glendale Raptors have lost just two 7s games this summer, but they could prove costly. Glendale won the West’s first qualifier in Dallas, going 5-0.
Their next outing, a round-robin event in San Diego, the Raptors swept their SoCal competition.
In the third and final West qualifier, Glendale went 3-2 and finished third. Because of a log jam at the top of the West standings, their loss to the Denver Barbarians in the semifinals relegated them to playing a one-off against the Dallas Harlequins for the West’s third seed to Nationals, which they won.
Had Glendale opted to play in the Kansas City West Qualifier instead of San Diego, chances are they’d have landed in a better pool at Nationals than the consensus pool of death, which includes heavy hitters SFGG, Utah and the Chicago Lions.
Only two teams won a West Qualifier this summer -- Glendale and The Woodlands Exiles -- but the Barbarians amassed enough points by playing all three qualifiers to eclipse Glendale and finish second.
“Obviously, we’ve got a very strong pool due to the fact that we finished third here in Denver. It puts us in a situation to have to play the top teams from the other regions,” said Glendale coach Andre Snyman.
“At the end of the day, we have to play our game, focus on our game plan, try and stick to our structures, and we’ll basically face the team that plays us a game at a time, and if we can stick to our defensive patterns, attacking patterns and our decision making, we’re in for a shot.”
The Raptors have defeated more Nationals-bound teams this summer than anyone else playing in San Francisco this weekend, notching wins over OMBAC, Belmont Shore and Denver, but they’re somewhat limping to the final tournament of the season.
Shae Tamati, who started every game in the Raptors run to the 15s National Title, has a bum calf, which he suffered during pool play in Denver. Spencer Scott, the former Aspen captain, has a strained hamstring, which kept him on the sidelines in Denver. Both range from questionable-to-doubtful for the weekend.
Those injuries are compounded by the ineligibility of Dustin Croy, a 15s stalwart for the Raptors whose 7s season started late due to injury, preventing him from playing in two tournaments. He’s applied for an eligibility waiver (for rule 9.2 a), but a waiver hasn’t been granted by USA Rugby, much to the chagrin of Snyman.
“We’ve got a few injuries, and we’ve got a situation with Dustin Croy where USA Rugby doesn’t want to sign his waiver, although he’s been with the club for two, three years. He injured himself before the first tournament, before Dallas.
“He’s always been part of the squad, and now all of a sudden USA Rugby doesn’t want to sign his waiver. You don’t move rugby forward if that is the attitude of the union. He’s a good player, and at the end of the day you want your good players to go to tournaments like Nationals and get exposure. That’s how you move things forward with the sport. It’s not like he’s a fly-by-night, import player. He’s always been part of our squad.”
With Glendale’s two best forwards not guaranteed to play and one of their most dependable wings out, Snyman is relying on even bigger performances from the team’s other playmakers, like Ata Malifa, Bradley Winbush and Dewon Reed.
“I think players of their caliber will definitely know that they will have to lift their game, because we;’ve got, if I can use the term, a bit of a flat tire,” said the former Springbok.
“Obviously the other teams have a little more depth than us, but sometimes it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the heart in the dog. My guys are not big, but they’ve a really good attitude towards the game, big heart, a fighting spirit, a never die attitude, and that counts a lot.”