Going into the South 7s championships in mid-July Atlanta Old White coach Bryn Ireland wondered just what he had.
“I like the older system, where we play a season of tournaments leading into the South championships,” Ireland told RUGBYMag.com. “This one-off tournament is tough. It’s really difficult to maintain focus when you have to really apply yourself on only two or three weekends.”
That worried the Old White coach, but he needn’t have been concerned. AOW outstripped the competition, including Life University and a plucky New Orleans squad, to take the South title and a seat at the table in San Francisco.
Led by Richard Kanda, Ron Omondi, and summer addition Tim Barford, AOW played smart 7s rugby; some might say an old style of 7s rugby. They moved the ball, kept out of contact, and looked for space.
Despite losing four starters early in the season to injury, they have kept it together long enough to get their pattern down, and then with Mike Aaron and Eric Woods back, they are that much stronger.
“We have a true squad of 12, and that’s going to be really important in San Francisco, where one injury can really hurt you,” said Ireland. “We will bring a smaller, more mobile team. I don’t think we’ve got one guy over 200 points. Because of that it will be tough, especially if we get drawn into a lot of contact. So we need to stay out of contact and play to our strengths.”
Ireland said the first nine minutes of his South final against New Orleans were the best he seen the team play. But nine minutes won’t cut it, so fitness has been a big part of their buildup. So, too, has the generosity of Life University, which has served as a scrimmage opponent during their buildup.
Now, of course, it’s up to Atlanta Old White to carry the banner for the South. Matched up against the Pittsburgh Harlequins, Middlesex and (possibly) the Woodlands Exiles, they won’t have much opportunity to take a breather.