The Serevi Selects repeated as Men’s Elite champions at the Las Vegas Invitational Saturday at Sam Boyd Stadium, beating the USA Falcons 10-7.
The Selects roster featured several capped internationals, like all-time IRB 7s points leader Ben Gollings, fellow capped English 7s star Mat Turner, former Fijian captain William Rasileka, and former Eagles Mike Palefau, Peter Tiberio and Miles Craigwell. The Falcons had a few players with circuit experience, like Mikey Te’o, Jack Halalilo and Tai Enosa, but were much younger across the board.
The Falcons scored first about three minutes into the game. After sustaining possession for several phases, it was Te’o who crossed the line. The conversion was made, and the Falcons led 7-0. The Selects responded when Craigwell drew the attention of two defenders and offloaded to an open Isi Daveta for the score in the corner. The touchline conversion was missed, leaving the Selects down 7-5 going into halftime.
Daveta made another big break down the touch line in the second half and looked like he might be gone, but some impressive hustle saw Enosa stop him just short of the try line. The speed merchant was hurt on the play, and the Falcons played enough defense to turn the ball over. However, the USA seconds never cleared the ball from their end, and a loose ball was kicked and recovered by Peter Tiberio for the try, putting Serevi up 10-7.
The Falcons nearly scored three times to retake the lead on the game’s last possession.
Pat Blair dragged a pair of defenders to inches short of the try line. Mike Ziegler then picked and tried to dive over the line but was held up. Madison Hughes then dotted down in the corner but was bundled into touch by Craigwell.
The Falcons had another chance with Hughes on the other end of the field shortly thererafter, but a massive hit from Mat Turner stymied the threat. Hope was kept alive when Ben Nicholls slapped a pass to an open teammate on the wing, but a great cover tackle by Logan Collins on Garrett Bender saved the game.
“I’m thinking I’m not going to be the reason we lose this game,” Collins said, recalling his thought process during the final play. “It’s a one-on-one. It’s kind of what you dream of. It’s kind of what you want in the end of the day, so I’m just glad it panned out.”
“Anytime you come that close it’s hard,” said Hughes, who had a couple of late scoring chances. “They’re such a good team. We put in a good performance and came inches short. It’s disappointing, but at the end of the day, you’ve just got to take your hat off and say well done.”
For Hughes, the final presented the Dartmouth junior the chance to play against some of his boyhood heroes.
“Ben Gollings’ England team, I grew up watching him,” said Hughes. “It was what made me fall in love with 7s, so it was a privilege to play against him. Mat Turner, he’s such a good player. He’s one of the players I watch and try to learn from. A real honor.”
Collins has been a pillar of the Denver Barbarians 15s and 7s sides for years, and despite the Barbos’ 7s success (finishing second at Nationals in 2013), he’s never gotten much of a look from the National Team setup. For him, the win over USA Rugby’s contracted players provided a little extra gratification.
“It’s kind of hard to put into words, but there’s definitely a lot of those thoughts going on,” said Collins, “but at the end of the day we came out here to win, whether we were playing the Falcons or anybody else.”