This is the second installment of King's Corner previewing the Serevi RugbyTown 7s in Glendale, Colo. this weekend.
Here is Pool B
POOL B: All Americans, Raptors, El Azul, Bermuda
USA Collegiate All-Americans
The USA Collegiate All-Americans are made up of 12 of the best collegiate sevens players in the country. While these players don’t have the on-field history together like others, this all-star team has the talent do repeat their performance from last year where they won the SRS Plate.
Led by Head Coach Tony Pacheco, the 2013 version of the All-Americans is made up of players from eight different schools around the country with Dartmouth’s Madison Hughes captaining the side. Playing on this team is viewed as the pathway to the USA Eagle jersey, as 2012 All Americans Brett Thompson (University of Arizona) and Nate Augspurger (University of Minnesota) used standout performances at last year’s SRS to springboard them onto the national team.
Keep an eye on the next group of All-Americans pushing for Eagle jerseys which includes Patrick Blair from Central Washington University and Arkansas State’s Zac Mizell and Dean Gericke. The All-Americans also hold some even younger talent in 2012 IRB Junior World Trophy winners Glen Thommes (University of Delaware) and Tanner Barnes (Central Washington University).
With plenty to prove, as well as age and fitness on their side, the All-Americans should have the energy and young talent to go deep in the tournament again.
As team with the shortest trip to the SRS, the hometown Glendale Raptors look to use their home field advantage at Infinity Park to bring home some hardware at this year’s tournament. Led by Director of Rugby Mark Bullock and Head Coach and former South African Springbok Andre Snyman, the Raptors look to capitalize on momentum created when their program was selected to participate in USA Rugby’s Olympic Development Program as well as the team’s success on the field this summer.
The Raptors kicked off their summer season by bringing home the cup at the Las Vegas Midnight 7s tournament held in June. The trip to Vegas gave the Raptors’ players a good chance to work together and iron out any problems before the official 7s season began. From that victory, the summer season has been up and down. The Raptors brought home a 2nd place result at a regional qualifying event in Woodlands, Texas, highlighted by strong, skillful play from Preston Bryant and a 7s debut from Connor Wright who also showed some really good qualities.
The team dipped a bit at the Kansas City 7s tournament, losing some concentration and lacking teamwork, ending up with a 5th place finish. While the Raptors were disappointed in the result, players like Mike Graham, Dewon Reed and Chad London played well.
The team’s most recent results came at the Denver 7s tournament, a final chance to quality for the national club championships. While Coach Snyman saw his players really step it up, including Peceli Rinakama, Preston Bryant, and Brett Willis, they just missed out with a 14-17 defeat in the finals.
Don’t discount the home field advantage for this hard-hitting team, as they come to play each tournament and will look to show well for their home fans.
For so long Bermuda has been the XVs powerhouse of the Caribbean – including an amazing unbeaten streak in the 70s, 80s and 90s, and back-to-back Champions again in 2011 and 2012. However, the island nation has yet to mirror that success in the 7s game.
Leadership at the Bermuda Rugby Union are set on translating success in XVs to the 7s game, having recently signed a 3-year rugby development partnership with Serevi Rugby in June. As part of this program sponsored by the XL Insurance Group, Serevi coaches will be making the three visits in 2013 (June, September, October) to provide the national team (and local youth) development programs. Focused on consistent execution of core rugby skills under increasing levels of game-like pressure, these high level trainings will better prepare the Bermudians not only for the SRS, but also the North American Caribbean Rugby Association tournament in November.
To Glendale, Bermuda brings a good mix of experience and youth, including five college students looking to crack in and show their talent. The team is led by wily Irishman, and former West Indies halfback, Tom Healy, who has shown no signs of slowing down in what will be the beginning of his 10th season with the Bermuda national squad. Others to watch include big forwards, Darren Richardson and Tashon DeSilva, Exeter University's Somers Brewin, and the quick feet of young Antonio Perinchief in the back line.
El Negro y Azul
Based in Austin, Texas, Azul (in short) is supported by players with 7s skills from several Austin based rugby clubs and led by Head Coach Ty Landry. With a 3rd place finish earlier in 2013 at the Las Vegas Invitational, this team is set to showcase rugby talent from Texas on the big stage provided by the SRS.
In a change from previous years, this summer Azul has been able to host visiting rugby players in Austin, broadening the player pool and allowing players to focus on fitness and building 7s specific skills. They have also been able to mix proven talent with younger, talented players from clubs outside of Texas to create a learning environment for all players focused specifically on 7s.
Playing in high-level tournaments against top-flight teams is proving beneficial for young players helping to expedite common learning curves for the game of 7s. It is expected that once the season comes to a close players will return to their home clubs better then when they left. This new focus should produce great results at this year’s SRS.