Qualification for the USA Rugby National Club 7s Championships came to a close on Saturday as the Northeast Sevens Series for men and women settled their seeds at the Middlesex Sevens in Woburn, Mass.
With most of the teams out of the running, only four teams came to compete in the Men’s Premier Division. Because 3rd-ranked Long Island wasn't among them, Old Blue and Middlesex began the day assured of a spot at Nationals. What they didn't know was who would be seeded 1st.
The two teams faced off twice on Saturday, once in group play and again in the tournament final. The first matchup was one of the more exciting games of the day. The scoring went back and forth and Middlesex had a 17-7 lead in the second half, but Old Blue managed to come back with two tries to win by a score of 21-17. Old Blue's Jordan Badia-Bellinger led the charge for much of the game. Badia-Bellinger has just came back from tour in New Zealand with the collegiate All-Americans and was a physical force in the middle.
Old Blue Coach Steve Lewis said that “our focus as the season has gone on has been contact and defense and we seem to have gotten better every week.”
Giving up 17 points was not ideal for Old Blue, but they were still pleased with being able to get the win against their rivals Middlesex.
When the two teams met in the final, it was a different story. Old Blue was able to put a lot more defensive pressure on Middlesex, and Middlesex had a hard time getting out of their own end from the start of the game. Derek Lipscomb got the scoring started for Old Blue as he received a pass from Dom Wareing about ten meters from the tryline on the left wing and he burst through to score the try; he would add the team’s second try as well later in the half to put Old Blue up 10-0. Badia-Bellinger had another strong game, with powerful running through the middle and was very much an engine for the team.
The game was pretty essentially decided when Wareing broke off a long run off a turnover in the Old Blue 22. That was the last scoring play of the day as Old Blue won the final of the Middlesex Sevens by a score of 15-0. The defensive effort was much stronger, as Middlesex could not get one try in the entire game and their offense seemed out of sync for much of the match.
Lewis was pleased with the improvement shown by his team. He remarked earlier in the day that his team “needs to work on the small things like getting the error rate down. If we concede one try a game on defense, we should be in good shape.”
"Defense," added Lewis, "is going to be our signature.”
Old Blue is looking forward to once again having a chance to play at nationals and Lewis is aware of the top competition that his team will be facing.
“Middlesex has been our main rival. We’ve played them every week and we’ve won twice and they’ve won twice, we would like to avoid them,” said Lewis
In the Women’s Premiere Division, it was thought that two qualifying spots were up for grabs between three teams. However, one of the teams dropped out of the competition at the last minute, which meant that the two Northeast berths to nationals would go to Beantown and the Boston Belles. Seeding at the tournament was still undetermined, so both teams had a lot to play for.
The Belles came into the day leading the group with Beantown not far behind, and the two teams ended up facing off in the Premier Division Cup Final. The game got off to a slow start, with not a lot of long runs or close scoring chances, but Beantown broke through with the first try at the end of the first half. It was a very hot day in Woburn, and fatigue seemed to play a factor in the remaining parts of the game. Beantown scored early and after their second try started to wear the Belles down.
Although the Belles seemed like they were down, they did not give up and kept pushing to get the game close. But a turnover at midfield game Beantown another long-range scoring opportunity, and that try put the game out of reach.
Beantown got stronger and stronger as the game went on, and they deservedly won the final, but after the game they were notified that the Belles would still hold on to first place in the group after qualifying.
New Beantown Coach Dimitri Efthimiou was still pleased with his team’s effort on the day and their improvement throughout the season. He said that “we maintained possession of the ball and limited turnovers which is what we worked on in practice and the girls did that extremely well today.” Efthimiou started coaching the team only about a month ago and he hasn’t had a lot of time to work with his players, but, he added “I think we’ve come a long way in that time. Sometimes we stay out two or three hours so we can get stuff done.”
Coming second in the Series might be a disappointment to Beantown, but winning in Woburn will give them a boost.
Efthimiou said he has a very dedicated team and they are excited to show how far they have come at nationals.
“With the talent and the will that these girls have, I think we have a great shot at being in the top five.”
In other action, the Men’s Open Division Final was played between relatively unknown Boston Maccabi RFC and the second Middlesex Savages team. This was a game that featured many big plays and long runs and was very exciting for all fans in attendance. The scoring began in the first half as Andrew Arons made an explosive run up the sideline to score a try that put Maccabi up 5-0.
Aarons is currently playing his first season of rugby after being a seven-time All-American in multiple track and field events at Williams College.
Maccabi’s lead was short-lived, as Middlesex answered with a try on the last play of the first half and the half ended with Middlesex leading 7-5. Aaron Lerman scored the first try of the second half as he broke through on the side line, but once again a difficult angle caused them to miss the conversion, leaving the score at 10-7 Maccabi and the game very much in the balance.
The much larger and more physical Middlesex squad put a lot of pressure on Maccabi and seemed like they were almost guaranteed to score again, but Maccabi held strong and pulled off multiple goal line stands. Middlesex continued to pour on the pressure, but a late turnover was pounced upon by Maccabi as Matt Almeida grabbed the loose ball and then passed it to his brother, Danny Almeida, who scored on the last play of the match and sealed a 15-7 victory for Maccabi.
Alex Goldstein, founder and president of the club could not have been more pleased with the result. He did not play in the tournament, but was very active on the sidelines as he watched his team get their first ever cup championship in an open division. “We’re a brand new club,” he said, with trophy in hand. “We’ve only been a club for less than two years, so to win our first championship feels great. We played in Division 4 in the fall and went undefeated, so next fall we will be in Division 3. We’re all very excited about where this team is going.” Although they are a new club, the future looks bright for Boston Maccabi RFC.