The Northeast is sending Old Blue and New York AC to represent the region at the men’s club 7s nationals in two weeks. The arch rivals met in yesterday’s NRU Championship final, and Old Blue pulled away from a 7-all halftime to win 28-7.
Old Blue cruised through pool play, allowing only seven points against as the New York City locals dismantled Rhode Island 39-0, Long Island 68-0 and South Shore 49-7.
NYAC had a bit more difficulty in the run-up to the playoffs. After defeating Boston 33-7 and Albany 19-0, the Winged Foot eked out a 15-7 win over Middlesex to win the pool. Middlesex then became Old Blue’s problem during the final four. A fantastic game evolved between the semifinalists, and as Old Blue desperately tried to hold onto its 28-26 lead with time winding down and Middlesex attacking inside the 22 meter, visions of last year’s NRU Final Four taunted the squad. But Middlesex made an ill-advised decision when awarded a penalty well within striking distance of the posts, and instead opted to run the ball. The decision didn’t pay off as time expired and Old Blue advanced to the final.
“Middlesex gave us a good game,” Old Blue captain Elliot Rechtin said. “They are a solid, physical team, and we had to adjust to that. Middlesex beat us in the semifinals to prevent us from going to nationals last year. It was tough to take then, but it was good to get revenge on them this year.”
Meanwhile, NYAC had a less intense semifinal against Rhode Island and earned a final’s berth with a 40-7 win.
In the final, NYAC built momentum in the opening minutes and took a 7-0 lead from a Chris Mattina try and Justin Hundley conversion. Rechtin matched the try count just before the half, and Peter Jericevich slotted the first of his four conversions.
At halftime, the captain rallied the troops.
“Basically, it just came down to heart,” Rechtin said. “We know that they’re just as skilled as us, so we needed to want it more. In the second half, we really started to click, especially at the restarts, and were able to put them under pressure, which is exactly what we had to do to win.”
Eagle Phil Hume gave Old Blue some cushion, breaking down the line and outpacing pursuers for the try. Minutes later, Elliott Wangaard dotted down Old Blues’s third converted try, a score that broke NYAC’s back.
“When we got two tries in the second half, we realized we had it in the bag,” Rechtin said of the game’s turning point. “You see one go over and start feeling good about where you’re going. Then two go over, and that’s when you realize you can pull it out; it’s not going to be as hard as you thought.
Old Blue also picked up its physicality, finishing all their tackles and wrapping up the ball in contact to prevent the offload. Substitute prop Dan Freed-Pastor came off the bench and made an immediate impact. He intercepted a pass, quickly moved the ball away from traffic and set up a try.
Steve Strydon capped off the second-half turn-around with a final try, as Jericevich hit his fourth conversion, 28-7.
“NYAC plays a style of 7s that we’re used to, working the ball from sideline to sideline” Rechtin said. “We can play against them and put up a good showing. … Pip [NYAC captain Justin Hundley] is a great captain. He has great restarts and puts it up really well. We’ve had to adjust to win those restarts, and that’s something we still need to work on.”
Rechtin is the oldest player on the team at 27, so the Old Blue team heading to nationals will be a young one. Saturday marked the first time that full squad – which only includes two international players and two summer-only players – worked together as a unit, so the next two weeks are all the team has left to hammer out the details.
“We’re a work in progress,” Rechtin said. “We’ve had a couple of scares, which I think will help us in the long run. We’ll do OK [at nationals]. We have a couple of guys with pace who can break it open, but there a few teams from the West, Hawaii and California that will give us a run for our money.”
Photos: (top) Old Blue captain Elliott Rechtin running in a try. (middle) Old Blue during pool play, scoring five of their 156 points over three games. (bottom) NYAC captain Justin Hundley. (All photos courtesy of Winston, twitter.com/RuggerWin)