The Milwaukee Barbarians enter this weekend’s Rock ‘N Roll 7s in Cleveland in second place in the Midwest. They’ve gotten there by finishing second to the first-place Chicago Lions in each of the last two qualifiers.
(Note - as of Friday, July 12, Milwaukee was bumped up to 1st after an eligibility paperwork mistake docked the Chicago Lions of points)
In the last qualifier, Lakefront 7s in Milwaukee, they went head-to-head with 1823 in pool play in a decisive match, beating the team that had knocked them off twice in Minnesota earlier in the season.
“We had the pool of death, and we knew that the second game against 1823 was going to be our most important game, and we went out there and we took care of business, and so now we’ve kind of given ourselves our own destiny,” said Barbarian Nic Vigder.
“We don’t have to depend on anybody. If we just do our job in the next two tournaments, then we’re in. If we do what we’ve been doing the past three tournaments, then we’re in.”
The Barbarians are a relatively new venture, a combination of Milwaukee RFC and the Milwaukee Harlequins. The longtime rival clubs played the most recent 15s season together, and this summer marks their first playing 7s together. Vigder, who graduated from Tennessee in the spring but had been playing 7s with Milwaukee RFC the last few summers, was invigorated by news of the merger.
“I think this city, it’s not big enough for two teams at all, and I think it was a rough 40 or 50 years there were both teams were having to compete with college players and high school players, and I think for the betterment of the sport, and the growth, the merger was what’s best,” he said.
“So I was really excited. I saw we were playing at a DI level, playing squads like the Lions and Metropolis for 15s, and I knew that was going to spill over into 7s as well. So I was really excited coming back that I was going to get to continue playing high level rugby after college.”
The Barbarians are reaping the benefits of combining two teams, with the best players of both making up the 12-man roster. And they’re also benefiting from the migration of a few guys like Vigder, who had been playing competitive rugby in college, home to Wisconsin.
Ryan Duklas of Palmer and Nick Albert of Life have returned to Milwaukee and are contributing in big ways. Duklas, a big individual, is deceptively quick.
“Believe it or not, he’s pretty elusive on the field. Sometimes he’s got the ball and he’ll make four guys miss and then get tackled or even gain ground after that,” said Vigder.
“And he’s got great experience playing 7s. There’s nothing better than an experienced prop in the scrum for wheeling it, lineouts and restarts, especially…He may look big and slow but he’s actually pretty shifty and quick.”
And Albert is providing some pace on the perimeter and leadership at training.
“We know how they’re coached at Life and the development of the game that goes on there, and just bringing that knowledge and experience at a higher level has really impacted us,” said Vigder. “Sometimes it’s just good to have that extra point of view.”
It’s been four years since a team from Milwaukee has made it to 7s Nationals, but this fortified team is motivated to keep it from being five.