Although the points system indicated that the Boston Belles and New York were on equal footing entering the Northeast Club 7s Championship, the Belles were leagues above the competition. The Boston side cruised to their second consecutive NRU championship, defeating New York 42-5 in the final.
But the road to the title wasn’t entirely smooth. The day began with a match against the Pony Express, a larger, contact-friendly team that sported the likes of Beantown’s Mari Wallace and Sharyn Wacht.
“We tend to start off [tournaments] slowly – especially when we have to play the Pony Express first,” Belles coach Bryan Hamlin said. “There’s a team that, throughout this whole season, has given us the most challenge. We train to keep the ball out of contact, keep the ball moving. But they come right in your face, and somehow, they drag you in.”
The Belles buckled down on defense and moved the ball away from the tackle zone as quickly as possible. After a shaky start, the Belles won 31-7.
They followed the win with a 33-7 victory over another all-star team – the Falcons – to earn a berth to the semifinals, where they blanked Morris 50-0.
Meanwhile, New York had blanked the Village Lions 43-0 and Morris 26-0 in pool play, then ousted the Falcons 31-0. Considering the scores, it looked like the final was going to be a good match – and it was, for the first half.
New York got on the board first as the Belles were punished for a mistake on the opening kickoff. Speedy wing April Cornell accounted for the five-point lead.
“After that, they switched it on and started playing their game,” Hamlin said. “New York is a good rugby team, so I’m very proud of them for turning it around.”
The Belles took the lead as Ashley Clancy burned down the sideline for the centered try that Jess Peterson slotted. Shortly afterward, Danielle Miano quick-tapped through a midfield penalty, weaved through a slow-adjusting defense and dotted down untouched. Try scorers made it pretty easy for Peterson, who slotted the majority of her six conversions from the center of the pitch.
“I’m very fortunate to have some very, very fast – and very smart – rugby players,” Hamlin said. “You give Miano and Clancy half a gap, and I don’t think anyone can stop them, particularly against what we’ve seen so far. And that’s our game plan – create some opportunities and put the ball into space where we have some speed.”
New York did well to challenge the Belles’ scrums, and scrumhalf Rosalie MacGowan was particularly key is disrupting clean ball. But the locals were working with a depleted roster, having lost players like Phaidra Knight and Margaret Kwateng. All told, New York had 10 or fewer players for the day’s games, and the fatigue began to show.
Miano dotted down her second try of the game before halftime, as the Belles took a 21-5 lead into the break.
The Boston repeated their scoring effort in the second half, as Amy Daniels, Peterson and Clancy again scored tries.
“They’re so full of character,” Hamlin said of his squad. “The true test of any team is how you fight back when you’re up against a wall. Same thing happened when we played New York in the Midnight 7s final, we were down two tries and for all intents and purposes, we should have been out of that game. But they didn’t give up and ended up delivering a bruising in the second half. That’s what this team’s got.”
Hamlin was particularly impressed with 7 and 15s Eagles Daniels.
“There’s something about Amy,” Hamlin said. “She draws so much defense and frees up so much space. Miano, in the final, probably played the best 7s I’ve seen her play. She just gets better and better every time she plays. Our players are getting more confident in themselves and with each other. With so many tournaments and qualifiers, we’ve had to mix up this team so much. So now we’re finally settling with our squad and can see some of our patterns moving.”
One thing that the Belles will be focusing on during the next two weeks is their defense.
“Offensively, we can score from anywhere given the opportunities,” Hamlin said. “But we’ve got to stop teams from encroaching on us. Earlier during the day, we gave up a lot of space on defense. As we move on, that’s going to kill us, so we’ve got to really shut their space down. I’m with our structure, but we’re still giving up too much.”
Although New York finished second and only played those who would have been eligible for nationals, the team is forfeiting its berth to San Francisco. Therefore, third-place team Falcons will take their spot.