Elite field assembles for Denver 7s 50th anniversary

LAFAYETTE, Colo. – Top-notch facilities, elite competition, and a long-standing tradition. Those are just three of the qualities that make the Denver 7s Rugby Tournament one of the country’s finest sevens events of the year. Adding additional excitement around the Saturday, June 24, National Championship qualifier at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park is the added element that this will be the 50th anniversary of the Denver 7s Rugby Tournament.

This year’s event will not only include a qualifying tournament for the Frontier Region – arguably the toughest qualifying division in the country – but also brackets in the Men’s Club, Men’s Social, and Boys’ High School division. Still, the premier division alone includes enough firepower to entertain rugby fans for an entire day of sevens.

Local side Denver Barbarians will not be considered one of the favorites strictly because they will enjoy the most support at Dick’s Sporting Good Park, but because the club is simply one of the very best sevens-playing sides in the country. The Barbarians have hoisted the first-place trophy 21 times in the event’s history – far more than any club. Their rich winning tradition includes 13 tournament wins from 2001 to 2015.

Denver’s success goes well beyond the landscape of the Frontier Division, though. The Barbos have qualified for the USA Rugby Club 7s National Championship 22 times, and have appeared in the Cup Finals at Nationals seven times. However, the distinction of National Champions has somehow escaped their grasp.

Olympian Ben Pinkelman, a local product from the state of Colorado, returns to the Barbarians after a tremendous season on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series. He is joined by fellow Eagle Kevon Williams, who is part of a steady flow of talented players from University New Mexico Highlands.

Former Collegiate All-Americans Michael Al-Jiboori and Nick Boyer will need to be marked tightly, but maybe not with as close an eye as Denver’s do-everything player Maximo de Achaval. The Argentina-born stalwart of the Barbarians is widely regarded as one of club rugby’s best players over the past decade.

Denver cannot be viewed as outright favorites, though. Rugby Utah NDA won the event in 2016 before going on to win a National Championship in sevens later in the summer. The oldest team at the 2016 USA Rugby Club 7s National Championship, the elite training squad will see a nice boost from local college talent and PAC Rugby All-Conference performers Chad Gough and Gabe Ruflin. Veterans of the team, like 2016 National Championship MVP and USA Eagle Don Pati, will still be around to lead from the front, as well.

The team that Utah beat in the 2016 National Championship Cup Final, the Kansas City Blues, also resides in the Frontier Division. The Blues are pleased to have welcomed a number of talented players from Lindenwood University and 2017 College 7s National Championship Dream Team standout Reece Czarnecki of Davenport University. The youth movement will be vital for Kansas City, as 2016 Club 7s National Championship Dream Teamers Gannon Moore and Naki Takarangi will not be available, nor will Eagle and Blues loose forward Walt Elder.

Lesser-known club Omaha Goats always manages to push the top teams to the brink of upsets, and the Gentlemen of Aspen will also enter a side. Not the powerhouse of old in 15s, Aspen’s stunning surroundings and history of excellence still draws talented players to compete for the club during the summer.

Given the number of quality clubs competing for valuable Frontier Division standings points, it is only sensible the teams play in one of the most pristine facilities one could think of to host a sevens tournament in America and possibly beyond.

“The venue at Dick’s Sporting Good Park is likely the best combination of a professional stadium with adjoining fields in the world,” said Director of Denver 7s Howard Kent. “This has enabled the Denver 7s Tournament to grow into an event that can cater to both premier-level teams as well as community based adult and youth clubs.”

For those who cannot attend the 50th Annual Denver 7s Rugby Tournament in person, the event will be shown live on Florugby.com. For more information on Denver 7s, visit the event’s website and Facebook page.