A year ago the Pacific Coast Grizzlies fulfilled their potential to win the 2010 Men’s 7s National All-Star Championships, with Mile Pulu earning the MVP award.
And while Pulu was superb, everyone knew that the injection of pace from Isimeli Daveta didn’t hurt, either.
Head Coach John Tyler fashioned his team around Daveta and Pulu, getting smart role players to win ball and get it to the speedsters in space.
This year, it’s a different Grizzlies team. Daveta has not been chosen because he is not, yet, USA eligible. Pulu is back, but he is by no means the only star. Matt Byrd, not that long ago the MVP of the college all-star championships, and Miles Craigwell join Pulu in a potent backline. And of course the new sensation, Maka Unufe, could well electrify fans once more.
Tyler still has his role players, but they are very experienced, and often have some star quality of their own. Pate Tuilevuka has reinvented himself as a 7s forward. Mose Timoteo is the link between ruck and attackers, and Ben Green brings a worldiness from having played all over the globe.
It’s hard to see the Pacific Coast being challenged in their pool, but if they are, it will be by Southern California. Despite being with Shalom Suniula (pro club commitments), and Matt Hawkins (surgery), the Griffins can look to Belmont Shore champion and USA player Justin Boyd to provide a physical attacking flair to rival that of Pulu. They add to that lineup the classy Taylor Howden, a transplant from Denver, and Corey Council, a crossover who has shifted to SoCal because the West didn’t want him.
Add to that the constant presence of Peter Sio and the tireless Eddie McKenna up front and you’ve got a SoCal side, complete with some young guys with pace, who could challenge Pacific Coast.
The Northeast and South are not there to make up the numbers, but they will be challenged to match the other two teams in pure athleticism. The South is a very young squad, including 2010 Rugby Magazine U19 Player of the Year Will Farrell, and Mu Cabbell, a 20-year-old who played cornerback for Georgia Southern. Head Coach Julie McCoy is as technically proficient a 7s coach as anyone in the nation, and will have the South playing a smart game.
Sean Horan’s NRU side is certainly more experienced, with Duran Vota, Dom Wareing, Brennan Moore, but the guy to look at might be Peter Ondi. He was the high-schooler who showed up at the Mid-Atlantic open combine and blew observers away with his pace.
Still Pool A appears to be Pacific Coast’s to lose. The Grizzlies, however, have to go into the event thinking differently, or they might be in for a nasty surprise.