The Serevi Rugbytown 7s this weekend at Infinity Park in Glendale, Colo. isn’t the National All-Star Championships, but it could well serve close to the same purpose.
The eight-team tournament includes one overseas professional team, in the Samurai from England. The rest are strong teams from around the USA, including a USA Falcons team that is, essentially, the USA team. In addition, the Collegiate All Americans are there, and Serevi Selects, a team run by the Serevi Rugby company out of Seattle, and will feature some of the Old Puget Sound players as well as some others.
But then you’ve got some club teams, too, including Glendale, Tiger Rugby (Belmont Shore), Old Puget Sound, and Chicago Lions.
At first glance this tournament could be seen as a rematch of the National Club Championships, where Belmont Shore finished 1st, Chicago 2nd, and OPSB 5th (5-1, losing only to Chicago). But it won’t be exactly like that, as this is not a USA Rugby event, and teams don’t have to show up with players only registered with their team. All three are expected to change their lineups.
“We have Serevi and OPSB, and we will split the squads up,” said OPSB Head Coach Evan Haigh. “It’s been a really great season for us. Obviously we’re very disappointed not to win nationals, but to do what we did with some of the injuries we had was impressive. I was very proud of the guys. We lost one game by four, so we didn’t do too badly.”
Expect Serevi to cherry-pick some of the top players from last week’s OPSB team, and expect Beach to be younger. Four players who traveled across country from Florida State University to spend the summer in Seattle and train under Serevi will get their chance in the sun – John Lumbra, Jason Kinsley, Greg Kraus, and Austin Grimm.
“We have a bunch of young guys who have really worked hard and are really committed, and they will get a chance to play.”
Central Washington players will also augment this squad.
Serevi will be packed. The all-time leading points-scorer and try-scorer in IRB 7s history, Santiago Gomez Cora and Ben Gollings are registered with the team, and have been working with Serevi in camps and clinics. Penisoni Rokocoko of Fiji is also with the team. Add in stars Fili Botitue, Isi Daveta, Emosi Vucago, Miles Craigwell, and Mike Palefau and you’ve got quite a team.
The Lions, which beat OPSB by dominating possession and playing some excellent, desperate defense. They are back for more.
“Overall I was really impressed with our performance,” said Head Coach Aaron Manheimer. “We had several players making their first trip to nationals and when they got in the game they didn't back down. I'll use the example of Cyrus Turner.”
Tanner came on late against OPSB and broke the line on his first touch, and then slowed a Beach breakaway long enough for Max Narewski to make a game-saving tackle.
“Also in his first minutes playing at nationals, Matt Kelly stole the ball in a ruck before OPSB committed a penalty to end the game,” added Manheimer. “For guys like that to step for us after the seven starters poured everything they had onto the field was huge, and speaks volume about our program as a whole. The quarterfinal and the semi took a lot out of us but I felt like we had enough left for the final. I believe the physicality eventually wore us down.”
The Lions lineup won’t be all that different from the group that played in San Francisco, but they will be without Manheimer. The longtime coach has patrolled the sidelines for the Lions for the last time, and Jeremy Nash, who has also played for OPSB, will coach the team.
:This summer, going 20-0 in the Midwest has to be a milestone for this team,” he said. “I have never seen it done before. In the summer, with all the games, the heat, injuries, and distractions it's easy to let a game slide. We came close to losing several times but every time these guys found a way to win. I credit that to our team captain Eddie Bluemel. He knew how to keep these guys focused when it mattered.”
This tournament in Glendale will then be a chance to showcase players.
“I have always been about player development,” said Manheimer. “I think of the Lions Sevens Program as an academy. So even after our loss to Belmont Shore, when Tony [Pacheco] from the All American 7s told me he was going bring Max Narewski into the team for the Chula Vista camp, to me, that's what it's all about.”
Tiger Rugby will make some changes to their lineup, also to showcase players, and some others to keep some veteran leadership in the group.
Of the team that won the national title for Belmont Shore, five will go to Glendale – Eric Duechle, Ed Pitts, Eddie McKenna, Mike Teo, and Oliver Cregg. The rest of the roster will be filled out with veterans – Justin Hundley, Dallen Stanford, and Peter Sio, who have all played for the USA 7s team – and players looking to break in – Duncan Kelm (Old Aztecs) and Zach Pangelinan (OMBAC), who have been capped at 7s, and Taylor Howden from Denver and 1823 players Michael Ziegler and Dominic Mauer.
“I think the 1823 guys haven’t been seen, and they deserve to be,” said Walker. “We are going to put them in a very challenging situation. With the teams that are there, there’s no place to hide. At Belmont we won that championship by have about as simple a game plan as possible. We did that because we didn’t have a real playmaker, so we installed a plan the players could execute. I think these guys we have here can execute, too.”
Serevi Rugbytown 7s Pools:
USA Collegiate All-Americans
Old Puget Sound Beach