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Club 7s Preview: Men's Pool C

LAFAYETTE, Colo. – One would expect all competitors at a National Championship event to possess the talent and credentials to vie for the Championship itself. 1823 Rugby, Old Blue of New York, Olympic Club, and Schuylkill River Exiles will consider themselves contenders in Pool C at the Aug. 13-14 USA Rugby Emirates Airline Club 7s National Championships, but only two will reach the Cup round at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.

Old Blue of New York is one of the most storied clubs in American rugby history, and has one of the most impressive Club 7s records of the men’s field. Two of the club’s 42 Nationals wins have come in Cup Finals (1993 and 2005), while two of its 25 losses have also come in Finals, most recently in the 2014 event in Seattle.

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The club’s prowess is not sevens-specific. With squads across multiple divisions, Old Blue is a perennial trophy threat in the 15s code. A Division III Finals appearance in 2013 and a victory for the DII squad in 2014 seemed to pave way for the club’s success in Seattle. With capped Eagles Nate Augspurger, James Bird, and Luke Hume – as well as an abundance of speed in the likes of Marcus Henderson and Derek Lipscomb – only a last-second Seattle Saracens try kept the club from the “gold medal.”

Last year’s Plate Final victory was little consolation for the club, whose team this year – with Bird and Kirkland in tow – basically ran the Atlantic North. Former Arkansas State University standout and College 7s Dave Sitton Memorial Trophy winner Dylan Carrion can provide an X-factor for Old Blue when called upon, while collegiate teammate and capped Eagle Harry Higgins will shore up the set pieces.

Old Blue made it out of its pool in 2014 at the expense of last year’s fourth-place team, 1823 Rugby. Based out of Columbus, Ohio, 1823 utilizes the facilities of National Development Academy Tiger Rugby and spends the year training specifically for the sevens game. In seven Club 7s appearances, the fourth-place finish in Iowa – where it was the only team to hand Champion Seattle Saracens a loss – was its best.

It will not be surprising to some to hear that Eagle and Olympian Perry Baker wore the 1823 shirt at Club 7s in 2014, not long before he made his World Rugby Sevens Series debut. 1823’s ability to train players in a professional environment and its willingness to take on athletes has also been a factor in the success of the state’s inaugural PRO Rugby team, Ohio Aviators.

Though Baker has not played with 1823 this year, the club has not struggled with finding athletes capable of winning a sevens tournament. Two squads were entered into the Midwest’s Cin City 7s in Cincinnati, with the top side slaughtering the competition to the tune of 141-7 before even reaching the Final, which it won. The club will want to reach the podium in this Olympic year, and it has the athletes and the summer of sevens résumé to make it happen.

Schuylkill River Exiles will be appearing in their seventh Club 7s event since 2009, missing only the 2010 event a year after the sport was introduced to the Olympic Games Program. It has been a hodge-podge of sorts in terms of the team’s results at Nationals, with a runners-up appearance in 2011 the cream of the crop. Last year, the club’s 3-3 record was highlighted by a defeat of KC Blues in pool play to earn a spot in the Cup Quarterfinals, but eventual runners-up Denver Barbarians sent the Exiles to the Plate competition.

The average age of this year’s squad is a youthful 25, with Pat Boyle and Randy Helsman the elder statesmen of the club. Drexel University captain Cody Bukowski has played against some of the better collegiate sevens programs to bring experience in the form of younger legs, as well. Kutztown University and Pennsylvania State University are well represented in the squad of 11, and most players hail from Pennsylvania.

The Exiles have proved throughout the summer that they are for real, taking down DI XVs Champion Mystic River at Slug 7s, one of four Mid-Atlantic qualifiers. Fortunately and unfortunately for Schuylkill River, the tournament was rained out ahead of the Final, but the points gained from that tournament leading into the final qualifier, Monk Vaughn 7s, which it won to claim the Mid-Atlantic’s top seed.

Three clubs from the Golden State are heading out to Colorado this weekend, and Olympic Club is representing the Bay Area all by its lonesome. In 10 Nationals appearances, the club has reached just one Cup Final, and that was back in 2003. Olympic Club has not been to Club 7s since 2012, where the team’s decline on the national stage hit a peak with a 14th-place campaign.

PRO Rugby’s northern Californian teams were buoyed by the work of Olympic Club over the years in producing quality athletes, but the club has also benefitted from the local college programs. Few schools have been more active in graduating Eagles and professional rugby players than University of California, Berkeley, with five Bears playing for O-Club this weekend.

Two of the Cal graduates – Colin Hawley and Rikus Pretorius – have been capped with the Men’s Eagles Sevens on the international Sevens Series, and Hawley was there as recently as the 2012-13 season. Nearby Stanford University also has a representative set to wear the ‘O’ in Jackson Cummings, a freshman walk-on at Stanford in 2010 that took snaps in 41 games during his collegiate career. With the experience of the squad paired with natural athletes, Olympic Club will shed its No. 14-overall-seed title when the whistle blows at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.

The 2016 USA Rugby Emirates Airline Club 7s National Championships will take place Aug. 13-14 at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colo. Every one of the 96 matches at Club 7s will be available to watch free of charge on The Rugby Channel.

Club 7s Preview: Men's Pool A

LAFAYETTE, Colo. – Austin Huns’ first-place finish in the Red River competition puts the Huns in their first Club 7s National Championship in the team’s history, but the No. 1 Red River seed also sees Austin into Pool A – an extremely experienced pool. Seattle Saracens, Kansas City Blues, and New Orleans make up the rest of Pool A, and combine for 33 National Championship appearances.

Seattle Saracens‘ eight National Championships at Club 7s includes years the team played as Old Puget Sound Beach Rugby, Seattle-OPSB, and Saracens. Whichever label the boys from the Pacific Northwest have played under, they have proven to have mastered sevens.

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True to Seattle’s typical form, Saracens will bring a few standouts with international résumés behind them, along with a host of young, up-and-coming players. Miles Craigwell, Mike Palefau, and Peter Tiberio have each played a lot of games with the Eagles, and all three have won National Championships with Seattle. Then there is William Rasileka. An imposing center in 15s, Rasileka has quietly played a big part in Saracens’ superb form in both 15s and sevens in recent years.

Eagle flanker and Central Washington University All-American Aladdin Schirmer is not available for Nationals while he captains the AIG Men’s Collegiate All-Americans on their Tour to Queensland sponsored by WellDog, but his brother, Maverick, and four other Central Washington Wildcats will attempt to help the reigning champions repeat.

The Austin Huns surprised many by winning the Red River competition this summer. After an improved 15s season, the Huns opened the summer with a first-place finish at Bloodfest 7s, a non-qualifying tournament, but an early indication that Austin had a legitimate shot at Nationals.

During the qualification process, the Huns continued their first-place form by taking the top prize at the initial Red River qualifier in Little Rock, Ark. Austin concluded the three-event series with two second-place finishes, and the performances were not only enough to punch Austin’s first Club 7s ticket, but also claim the top seed out of the Red River.

The newly formed Rugby Utah National Development Academy came out of the gate firing on all cylinders in the Frontier competition. Rugby Utah’s qualification before the Frontier’s three-tournament series had completed meant that either Kansas City Blues and/or 2015 Cup Finalists Denver Barbarians would miss out on the biggest club sevens event of the year. Fortunately for the Blues, their second-place finish at the third and final Frontier qualifier put them into the Championship field ahead of a Barbarian team the rest of the field is thrilled to not have to play at Nationals.

After an impressive third-place finish in 2014, the Blues were disappointed to miss out on Cup qualification at last year’s Nationals, but did well to bounce back to win the Bowl. While the team enjoyed bringing hardware back home to Kansas City, the club would no doubt be disappointed to be left out of the Cup Quarterfinals again this weekend.

Several players crucial to the Blues’ recent success on the National stage will make the relatively short trip to Denver, including danger-men Gannon Moore and Kendrick Scott.

Following back-to-back National Championship appearances in 2013 and 2014, New Orleans missed out on Club 7s last year. NOLA is back in this year, but the road to Nationals was not an easy one. NOLA opened the summer with a first-place finish at its host event, but then settled for a second and third-place finish down the stretch.

New Orleans put a strong foot forward when it counted, however, fending off squads like Charlotte, Legion of Doom, and Oklahoma Elite to place second at the South Championships behind Atlanta Old White for its chance to improve on the club’s best finish at Nationals, which came with a Bowl Championship in 2013.

The 2016 USA Rugby Club 7s National Championships will take place Aug. 13-14 at Dick’s Sporting Good Park in Commerce City, Colo. Every one of the 96 matches at Club 7s Championships will be available to watch free of charge on The Rugby Channel.