Four teams entered Denver 7s Saturday with chance to reach Nationals, and all four made interested observers wait until the last two games of the season to figure out which two would represent the West in Pittsburgh in August.
The Denver Barbarians and Glendale Raptors both needed to win the tournament to have a realistic shot at making it, and they met in the final. The Kansas City Blues and WE Rugby could have clinched a berth had they so much as reached the final. Both fell one game short, setting up all-important championship and third-place matches, which would see the winners advance to Nationals.
Denver and Glendale reached the final in similar fashion, utilizing big first-half performances to control their games before a lightning delay postponed the drama. And both WE Rugby and Kansas City seemed to be running on fumes, perhaps because of the altitude.
In the third-place game, the Kansas City Blues were up against it from the beginning. After winning the series opener in The Woodlands back in June, the Blues have been decimated by injury and unavailability, and while the replacements did well to get KC into the Cup Semis with a shot a Nationals, six games in one day wore on them more than it did WE Rugby, who ran away to a 31-5 win.
WE Rugby suffered some serious attrition throughout the day, too, essentially entering the final with one substitute. But the Texas team had an extra spring in its collective step, and early success snowballed into a second wind.
The final was considerably more competitive, with Glendale talking a slight lead into halftime. Both seasoned teams didn’t panic early and played stiff defense. The Barbos were pretty cautious on offense in the first half, but when they started testing the Raptors in the middle of the field, they found more success.
Glendale was visibly trying to impose its will on Denver, hitting at the ribs perhaps a half step too late a couple of times. On one of those occasions, Maximo DeAchaval laid a smooth grubber into the try zone that resulted in a try, while taking a big thud from Justin Pauga in the process, to put Denver up 17-14.
Glendale needed a big play, but they lost one of their homerun hitters, Peceli Rinakama, to injury at a crucial time.
The match was physical, intense and everything a championship game between rivals should be. There were some gutsy calls made down the stretch that affected the outcome, though. Referee Derek Summers penalized Glendale in a defensive five-meter scrum, helping the Barbos get into the try zone, and not long after he reset a scrum seemingly won by the Raptors at full time. Denver won the next put in and scrambled to get it into touch.
WE and Denver ended the qualifier season tied with 10 points and a 1-1 head-to-head record. WE had a slightly better point differential, so they get the top seed.