Last weekend’s Elite City 7s had a bit of everything: good rugby, team turnarounds, and controversy. Seattle took home the trophy and a spot in the World Club 7s in August and did so in convincing fashion with a win over San Diego in the final. To reach the final Seattle and San Diego had to overcome very good Denver and Philadelphia teams.
We were at the tournament and as such thought we’d provide a few observations:
Format: Prior to the tournament the format had come under skepticism but in the end it made the tournament extremely entertaining. Basically it rewarded teams that won and won convincingly. Teams played a set opponent in the first round and then played another winner in round two. At the end of the first day each team was ranked 1-12 with the top four getting a bye in the first round on day two. As Boston and a few other teams found out, having to play an extra game on Saturday hurt. The bottom line was that the format made nearly every single match important in some way.
Communication: The big controversy at the tournament was that some coaches were told that there would be no contracted athletes at the tournament. Other coaches were told that the contracted athletes would be spread around. In the end the entire San Diego team was made up of players from the OTC while Seattle had Andrew Durutalo. Teams like Philadelphia, who played San Diego in the semi-finals, had legitimate complaints. It all comes down to communication and it’s clear that there wasn’t enough from U.S.A. Rugby.
Top Teams: That said, only San Diego had a team entirely of contracted athletes and they still lost to Seattle. The Seattle side has a number of former Eagles on their team but only Durutalo was contracted. Seattle, San Diego, and Denver were the best teams on the weekend and if the tournament was played multiple times throughout the year each would have a great chance of picking up a tournament win. Denver especially was impressive for the way they worked together.
Challenge: Even though teams were upset that San Diego used contracted players the point of the tournament was to challenge the best players in the country and identify players for the Eagles. What better way to put your hand up and say I want time with the Eagles than playing well against them. Chris Mattina from Philadelphia did that as did Max De Achaval and Preston Bryant from Denver. Yeah, it sucks for a lot of teams that Seattle and San Diego dominated most of the tournament but at least now they know the standard they need to be bringing.
Players: There were a number of players out there this weekend that could push for a spot on the Eagles. There weren’t any standout players aside from the ones we already knew about—Mike Palefau, Will Holder, Mike Teo—but there were a number of other intriguing players. Denver’s Kevon Williams stands out among those. A relative newcomer to the team he scored tries in bunches
Improvement: There were several teams that showed a lot of improvement throughout the tournament. Philadelphia came into the tournament as definite underdogs but utilizing a week of training in Houston the mostly college-based side improved with every match and had a great weekend. They were the feel good story. Another team that improved was Salt Lake. They went into the tournament with the youngest roster by far and looked very shaky after the first two rounds. But and upset win in the second round set them up for a two win day and a solid showing.
In the end the tournament wasn’t without its flaws. Playing in Houston was a mistake in terms of the heat and humidity (the web stream over heated for fans trying to watch at home). There wasn’t really an atmosphere at the tournament despite some solid rugby. That said, it did bring out the best in a lot of different players and organizations. It also gave the Eagles coaching staff and opportunity to evaluate players.
If we were to provide recommendations for future iterations of the tournament we would suggest holding it in a better venue with seats. Stanford’s stadium, Infinity Park, and a number of other small venues come to mind. We would also suggest having the tournament 3-4 times a year. That way teams can make adjustments and improve. There is no question that last week brought out most of the best olympic-eligible talent in the country and by pitting the best against now another is how we are going to make better players.