So many coaches and players we’ve talked to this summer 7s season have said the same thing – 7s is unpredictable; 7s will break your heart; on “bounce of the ball” or one call could change the entire tournament.
And 7s is like that in a lot of ways, but why is it, then, that the same clubs come close to the top? Why is it that New Zealand has dominated international 7s for so many years? Luck?
Some teams are more equal than others, and with that in mind, we look at the Men’s 7s Club Championships and pick our winners:
Pool A: Old Aztecs, Denver Barbarians, NYAC, Charlotte
This is a strong group, but at the national level you need the right combination of everything – power, speed, defense, speed, height, elusiveness. Speed.
NYAC and Charlotte have a good combination of those elements, but Old Aztecs and Denver have more. Old Aztecs have excellent experience with Riaan Hamilton, Matt Hawkins, Duncan Kelm, and Justin Boyd centering the team. They do not have a dominant air guy, but they have just about everything else.
If Peter Tiberio is healthy, they add an injection of brilliance that could put them over the top.
The Barbarians are faster this year than they usually are. And, no surprise, they have dominated the West more so than in other years. They could have all the pieces, plus time together.
Our Picks: 1st San Diego Old Aztecs, 2nd Denver Barbarians
Pool B: Schuylkill River, Old Blue, Olympic Club, OMBAC
This, as stated in our pool preview, it the most competitive pool, top to bottom. Every team is strong, but no team is so strong as to be favorites.
Does Schuylkill River depend too much on a player who is hurt? Has OMBAC really made the connection between their veterans and their youngsters? Can Olympic Club take another step forward? How, exactly, is Old Blue winning rugby games?
Schuylkill River has added Gareth Jones to an already strong squad. When they are all together, they win, and in fact, when Greg Ambrogi has been hurt, they had their own little Teen Wolf moment and won anyway. They also play excellent team D.
OMBAC is still a work in progress. Would it be a nice story for Jason Raven to go out a champion? Sure. But this will be tough to accomplish. Olympic Club does have some of the pieces that could make a championship team, but this summer they have had seven important tournament games against nationals-level opponents, and won once.
Old Blue. Don’t forget, Old Blue has won before and been in the final before. This club knows how to put together a winning 7s team. They have recruited some impressive local talent from colleges that we don’t normally talk about, and that’s fine – go ahead and take them lightly. Luke Hume is a game-changing type of player in 7s. All they need to do is play as a cohesive unit.
Our Picks: 1st Schuylkill River, 2nd Old Blue
(We’re not really wedded to these picks. It could be completely different, and we reserve the right, should it be completely different, to go on record and say we thought it might happen. This is a wide open tournament, but from what we know, these are our picks.)
Pool C: Old Puget Sound Beach, Youngbloodz, Daytona, Maryland Exiles
Old Puget Sound is a superb team. They have more fast guys than anyone in the tournament. Any other team would be thrilled to have Fili Botitu and say they’ve got a game-winner. But OPSB also has Shane Moore, and Miles Craigwell (as a forward), Tim Stanfill, and a guy named Mike Palefau.
You see how it works. They have tons of talent. We never mention Trevor Richards and he was in the USA system for a while. We haven’t mentioned Emosi Vucago yet. They’ve got players like Pat Curtis and Pat Blair, who just shut up and do their jobs. Yes, this is a very good team.
Who finishes second is a major puzzle. Youngbloodz could be there; Garrett Bender is in very good form as are the Augspurger brothers. Maryland has been very close in the Mid-Atlantic, and Daytona are South Champs.
In the end we take the champions. Despite not playing a qualifier season, Daytona has been playing a lot together. They have gamebreaker speed and a good plan. They could be upended, and really we like the third-place team in this pool for the Bowl; 2nd will be a tight battle.
Our Picks: 1st Old Puget Sound Beach, 2nd Daytona
Pool D: Chicago Lions, Tama Laie Lions, Kansas City Blues, Belmont Shore
As much as we’d like to see the team from Hawaii, Tama Laie Lions, showcase Hawaiian rugby at its best, this is a young team. Word has been that former USA player Leonard Peters has been trying to get a waiver to play for the Lions (he registered with, but did not play for, another team). That is highly unlikely to happen, and even so, he’s just one player.
The Kansas City Blues have had a superb summer and have decided not to back down from anyone. But they are running into a very tough group of teams. The Chicago Lions have been severely tested by injuries, and kept on winning. They are as physical a group up front as any team, and JP Eloff is playing brilliantly at flyhalf. Rocco Mauer has regained his mojo, and if you key on him, they have other guys, too.
Belmont Shore has been shaky, winning at times and looking vulnerable at times. To pick them over, say, KC, would be a risk. But the key addition for Shore may be if Shalom Suniula (listed on their roster and reportedly given a waiver to play). If the USA captain does get to suit up, that's a boost for the Long Beach club.
Our Picks: 1st Chicago Lions, 2nd Belmont Shore
So that gives us these quarterfinals:
Old Aztecs v Old Blue – our pick, Old Blue (!)
Daytona v Chicago Lions – our pick, Chicago
OPSB v Belmont Shore – very, very tough to pick … OPSB
Schuylkill River v Denver Barbarians – our pick, Schuylkill River
Old Blue v Chicago Lions – our pick, Chicago
OPSB v Schuylkill River – our pick, OPSB
OPSB v Chicago Lions – our pick, OPSB
Plate: Old Aztecs