Pool C is clearly stratified, with Seattle-OPSB and WE Rugby at one level and Middlesex and NOVA at the other. The difference is expectation. WE and Seattle are expected to get through to the Cup Rounds, while Middlesex and NOVA are playing the underdog roles.
Seattle-OPSB has the most decorated roster in the tournament. The all-time top scorer in international 7s history, Ben Gollings, has recovered from an injury suffered at the Pacific Coast Championships. Mike Palefau and Miles Craigwell are Eagles. Willie Rasileka is a former Fijian international. Pat Blair is a 7s All American. Kellen Gordon might well have been one if they named 7s All Americans a year or two earlier.
Luckily for the rest of the field, teams are limited to two players who cannot qualify for the US National Team. So Seattle was put in the situation of having to decide between a capped English player and two capped Fijians. Emosi Vucago is the odd man out and one less stepper for opposing teams to deal with.
Emosi Vicago is a late addition - or is listed now as the original roster sent to USA Rugby and RUGBYMag was not correct. Vicago is a superb scrumhalf and a constant threat. Mike Nelson is an excellent and versatile player, and speedy Kisi Unufe is an exciting addition also.
When people think of Beach, they think speed. But this year’s team has a lot of size. Blair and Gordon are big units. Rasileka is a bigger unit. Seattle still has some speed, too. Shane Moore is really fast, and Craigwell and Palefau can certainly turn the corner. This team’s blend of pace, power and experience makes them the favorite.
Middlesex, who did well to finish 7th in the country with a young squad in 2011, won’t be awestruck by Seattle’s, or anyone else’s, big names this time around.
“When we went in 2011, they just had no idea what they were in store for. We get out there and there was a whole lot of team watching,” said Middlesex coach Josh Smith.
“We were in tents between the Chicago Lions and the Utah Warriors, and I thought my guys were going to ask for autographs instead of warming up for the game. I was like, ‘Alright guys, we’re going to be playing them later, so get your heads out of their [bums].’ It’s obviously gotten a lot better since then, and these guys have been to a couple of 15s Rounds of 16, so they shouldn’t be overwhelmed. I think they’ll be ready when they get out there.”
Middlesex is fielding a team similar to that which surprised in 2011, with a couple of tweaks. But the Savages’ biggest playmakers are young guys who went to local New England colleges and have grown up in the Middlesex club, playing both 15s and 7s.
Vini Daley, who was pretty green two years ago, might now be Middlesex’s best player. He, Jared Collinson, Brian Albanese and Nic Fujiwara are all graduates of DIII Springfield College. Daley, Collinson and a handful of other Savages have been working with the Northeast ODA, and Daley and Middlesex vet Nick Vettese will be playing with the New York team at the World Club 7s in London.
So Middlesex is more experienced now, more seasoned, but still considered a long shot to reach the Cup Quarterfinals, because WE is in the same pool.
The Houston area team is star studded. Instead of filling its team with players from small local colleges, WE has pulled All Americans from the top programs in the country. Arkansas State is well represented, with Shaun Potgieter, Pat Sullivan, Paul Benade, Zinzan Elan-Puttick, Dean Gericke (all All Americans of some sort) and Kirk Pretorius on the squad. Zac Mizell, another ASU All American, was with the team earlier this summer, but left for undisclosed reasons.
Former All Americans Hunter Leland (Texas A&M) and Chris Saint (Penn State) are also on the team, along with Life’s Alfred Qaranivalu, A&M’s Brian Guillen and Jamaican international Ken Hepburn. The point is, if you’re a close 7s observer, you’ve heard of virtually everyone on WE’s roster before this summer.
One you may not know is Tom Seabela, WE’s only import this season. He is in the Blue Bulls’ pipeline and has competed in Currie Cups in years past. He’s extremely fast and a hard worker. So WE Rugby, champions of the West, should not be slept on.
NOVA, on the other hand, is severely up against it. This team is not like the old NOVA teams that flew in studs from all over, though Dan Weku and Toshi Palamo are on the roster. This is a much greener, and likely less talented, team. The backline has punch, though, with Weku at wing, Palamo at flyhalf and league convert Reese Blayney at center. Tom Francisco is a former MARFU all-star, and he is a legitimate talent, too.
NOVA will be handicapped, however, on day one. Sione Sake was red carded in the MARFU final and he’ll have to serve his suspension Saturday. He will be available to play Sunday.
Sione Sake – Red carded, suspended Saturday
(Note: Seattle OPSB has made late changes to their roster. This is the final version)
See footage of Seattle OPSB beating SFGG in the Pacific Coast Finals.