On a hot and sunny day at the New York Military academy, ten teams competed to try and earn a spot at the Club 7s National Championship, playing the first of four Northeast Sevens Series Qualifiers.
In pool A, Old Blue 1 outpaced each of its opponents en route to a 4-0 record. Using endurance and timely offloads, Old Blue handily defeated Long Island, Boston, NYAC 2 and Morris to take the top seed in pool A. The battle for the second spot in pool A, and a berth in the cup semifinal, was between Boston, Morris and Long Island. Morris made things particularly interesting by beating Long Island in the final game of pool play. As a result, the three squads all finished 2-2, meaning the #2 team would be decided by point differential. Thanks to a 29-12 win over Boston, Long Island had by far the best point differential and secured a spot in the semis.
Pool B was much more straightforward as the Middlesex Barbarians cruised into the semifinals with a 4-0 record. NYAC 1 finished second at 3-1
Middlesex Head Coach Josh Smith was very pleased with his team’s performance in the pool play.
“We are doing a good job taking care of the ball and forcing our opponents to work to turn us over,” said Smith, adding that in the knockout rounds improving their defensive shape was crucial. “Defensively we need to lock down much better. We are not doing a good enough job recovering. A quality opponent will be able to exploit those gaps and convert them into points.”
Old Blue played probably their best match of the tournament in the semis against NYAC 1. Quick ball movement and several well executed offloads left Old Blue players open for easy tries. Ultimately, NYAC 1 had no answer for the Old Blue size and speed, falling 36-0. Former USA Eagle and current Old Blue Marcus Respes said he felt “that the team was getting better and better each game but in order to take home the title we need to maintain their defensive shape. After all, defense wins championships.”
The second semi proved to be a much more thrilling contest. Long Island jumped out to a quick 12-0 lead, but Middlesex came roaring back with two tries of their own. Scoring with less than a minute to go left Middlesex the chance to convert the game-winning kick. The conversion sailed right of the posts and regulation ended in a draw.
Long Island started the overtime period with several mistakes. First the opening kickoff went straight into touch, giving Middlesex a free kick at midfield. From that free kick a Middlesex player knocked on the ball but the ensuing scrum resulted in another Long Island penalty. After several phases, Middlesex picked the ball out of a ruck and dove over in the corner for the winning score - 17-12 Middlesex.
In the Plate Final, Long Island defeated NYAC 1 28-21 with a try as time expired.
The Cup Final started in similar fashion to the Old Blue semifinal. After Old Blue scored two quick tries, it looked as if they were going to run away with the match. However, a tremendous run from center Vinnie Daley, during which he broke several tackles, resulted in a try right under the posts. Additionally, as time was about to expire in the first half, the Middlesex sweeper made a try-saving tackle on the goalline by dragging his opponent into touch. The halftime whistle blew with the score 12-7 in favor of Old Blue.
The second half was a thriller as the crowd saw several lead changes. Early in the second half, Middlesex swung it wide left and with some hard running and a missed tackle were under the posts, making the game 14-12 Middlesex in front. Old Blue were not done as they managed to score a try but failed to convert the kick.
Once again, Daley used his strength and pace to give the Old Blue defense fits. This time, however, he set up his teammate, Jared Collinson, for the game-winning try. The kick was converted and Middlesex went on to win 21-17.
Vinnie Daley was outstanding all day and made a strong case for the most valuable player in the tournament. Although his creativity on offense helped propel Middlesex to victory, he credited the team’s success to their approach to defense.
“To stop a talented team like Old Blue, you really have to focus on defense," he told RUGBYMag.com. "We paid attention to the breakdown and made sure we matched them man for man on the outside.”
The atmosphere and quality of play made for a great day for rugby. Thank you to Real-Time Sports for providing up to the minute scoring updates for the entire tournament.