The Collegiate Rugby Championship is this weekend and while it isn’t the highest quality of rugby this country has to offer it does get some of the most attention seeing as it is on NBC. To help you get ready for the tournament we want to provide you with five story lines to watch.
Can Cal Repeat?
Cal are the defending champions having been at the door several times before only to come up short. Led by 2013 MVP Seamus Kelly the team should be the favorites to repeat. They have several players, including Kelly, returning to the team. That experience, combined with the fact that the players want to get past their Varsity Cup loss to BYU a few weeks back, should give them the incentive to do well.
There will be several teams standing in their way. Life is missing Colton Cariaga and Cam Dolan but they still have plenty of other talented players like Joe Cowley. Dartmouth has Madison Hughes, a player that has already made a major impact on the IRB Sevens Series. Arizona and UCLA also have fine squads.
Who Will Be The Surprise Team?
Every year it seems that there is a team that surprises with a strong run. In 2012 it was Arizona (although in retrospect it shouldn’t have surprised any of us) and in 2013 it was Navy and UCLA (again, we shouldn’t be that surprised in retrospect). Who will it be this year? There are a few candidates. Michigan was impressive in their Big Ten season and are well coached. Kutztown always has solid players while Navy may be ready to take a step up. Other teams that could make deep runs include Maryland, Ohio State, and Virginia Tech.
Will Blowouts Be Avoided?
With only 14 minutes for each match 7s contests aren’t supposed to be lopsided blowouts. Unfortunately that is what the CRC has been known for over the last couple of years. For example, last year in Pool A, Navy and UCLA recorded, 57, 26, 41, and 48 point wins over St. Joseph’s and Villanova. Cal beat Temple 55-0 in Pool C. If those were translated into a 15s match it would be an enormous blowout. In all honesty, if it wasn’t for the fact that the event is on NBC people would laugh at the quality on display. Aside from a few top teams there isn’t much in terms of good rugby on display.
Will Fans Show Up?
This question is in reference to both at the stadium and on television. It’s been no secret that tournament organizers have had to turn to local clubs in Philadelphia to fill the stadium and even then they really only get about 20,000 fans combined over two days. Although 20,000 fans to any rugby event in America is a good thing it may not make the event sustainable over time. Having eight of the 20 teams within two hours driving from the stadium probably isn’t a good thing in the end. The lower quality of play will also turn people off on television. It’s hard to mask sloppy play and mistakes. People aren’t dumb and they’ll catch on to it, even if they aren’t rugby fans. This tournament needs exciting, high quality matches to keep the television interest up.
Who Will Be The Breakout Player?
Brett Thompson, Peter Tiberio, Tim Acker, Trevor Tanifum, and Ben Leatigaga are just a few of the names that have emerged from CRC play to get noticed by national team selectors or high performance clubs. This year is bound to have their fair share. Look for someone to come from one of the smaller programs and make their mark felt.