The story is somewhat the same one out of the Northwest – a bunch of college teams are working hard to play good 7s, and Central Washington is way better than all of them.
On Saturday the CWU Wildcats won their fourth consecutive Northwest Collegiate Rugby Conference 7s title, beating Oregon State 41-7 in the final and outscoring their opponents by an average of 36-3. But there were moments where some teams looked to be challenging Central.
“Central Washington played a flawless half of 7s rugby against us,” said Oregon State University Head Coach Anthony Lally about the final. “Tony [Pacheco] has them playing really well. But what I was proud of what how our guys fought back. We were down 29-0 at halftime, but the guys didn’t give up and were much more competitive in the second half.”
Overall, it was an exciting day of rugby in Monmouth, Ore., the home of Western Oregon University. Aside from the Central Washington games, there was plenty of parity. OSU got a scare put into them by Oregon, which led 12-0 early on, and had to work hard to put aside Boise State.
In the semifinals the Beavers had all sorts of problems with Western Washington, which led 12-7 and were knocking on the door. That’s when OSU pulled off a key play, making a tackle, ripping the ball out of WWU hands, and getting it to Pono Haitsuka, who split the defense and went all the way for a try. That was a 14-point turnaround from which the Vikings would not recover.
Haitsuka then put the game to rest by beating four defenders on his own to score and finished the game 21-12.
Central Washington also had a challenge in the semifinal as they beat Washington 15-0. CWU Head Coach Pacheco heaped praise on former Eagle Kevin Swiryn, who has been coaching the Huskies 7s program.
“Kevin is doing a great job with them,” said Pacheco. “Yeah, we won, but we had to work for everything. They are really coming along.”
As for Central Washington, both Lally and Pacheco agreed, it was the Wildcat defense that started it all.
“Their line speed and their ability to take away space was excellent,” said the OSU coach. “And we were rattled. We started to fall off tackles.”
“We started well,” added Pacheco. “The guys were on the balls of their feet and playing really well as a unit. I felt over the day we got better, and we had our best performance in the final.”
Tanner Barnes has been outstanding all year, with the Chicago Lions in the summer and now back with CWU. But the guy who has really performed for CWU is Andrew Nelson. The MVP of the 2010 NCRC 7s, Nelson has struggled with injuries, but is now back healthy.
“Andrew has been in great form,” said Pacheco.
Central has qualified for the USA Rugby National Championships, and there’s a good chance that more teams will be invited on an at-large basis.
“I think the guys would really like to test themselves on a national stage,” said Lally, whose Oregon State team now looks ahead to the Pac Conference 7s. “We definitely want to be in the mix, and I think overall the standard is really improving, which is great to see.”