The Rugby Sevens College Tournament was held at PPL Park in Chester over the weekend during a two day event which featured not only rugby but food, fun, and a concert by the Dropkick Murphy’s.
Rugby Sevens features seven players per side on the same size pitch as a traditional 15’s match. The high-scoring format provides for almost non-stop tournament play, as each match is split into two seven-minute halves, followed by a new game about every 20 minutes. Rugby Sevens kicks off as an Olympic sport in 2016.
The powerhouse rugby programs of California, Utah, and Arizona showed up in near perfect form in front of the 10,000+ fans in attendance. Cal started the day crushing Ohio St 38-0, dominating every phase of the game, and suffocating the Buckeyes. Utah stumbled early with a loss against Dartmouth but rebounded with wins against Notre Damn and Boston College. Arizona went 3-0 on day one with impressive wins over Temple, Oklahoma, and Texas. The Wildcats did not let an opponent score on them on day one.
Local teams did not fare as well as their west coast counter parts. Penn State advanced with lackluster wins over Ohio St and LSU (they also got their clocks cleaned by Cal 26-7). Temple couldn’t muster a win despite having an entire section held down by Owls fans cheering for them. One of the best matches of day one was the Army vs Navy game; it was everything fans could have hoped for. Navy scored quickly early in the second half to take the lead before Army touched down a late try to steal the victory.
Day two of the Collegiate Rugby Sevens Tournament started off with a major clash of rugby powerhouses. The defending champions of Utah took on Cal, the most dominate program in American history. Utah relied on its explosive speed and play making ability of Don Pati and the Lauti brothers to win 21-5. Central Washington University was the first team to put points on the board against a lighting fast Arizona squad. All it took was a single try for CWU to upset Arizona 5-0.
The semifinals kicked off with Army taking on Utah while the Dartmouth squad faced the Cinderella story of tourney, Central Washington. The major surprise of the semifinalists was that Utah stood alone with relative unknowns Army, CWU, and Dartmouth. Age, or better said, youth, was the major factor in the Utes loss to the boys from West Point. Tonata Lauti was sent off after a high late hit which gave Army a man advantage for two minutes. However, Army suffered the same fate and lost a player from a failure of releasing the ball in the ruck less than 5 meters from their own try line. Utah struck first but it was Army that struck often (surprisingly able to contain the fireworks of Don Pati and company).
Game two saw CWU face off against Dartmouth with impressive twins Chris and Nick Downer. The “Big Green” kept the pressure on from the first whistle with a fast Chris Downer try. CWU was able to answer with a try of their own but the joy was short lived as Dartmouth scored again and never let up, winning 24-12.
Dartmouth and Army faced of in what amounted to the Downer brother show. Nick provided big stops on defense and his twin brother showed his explosive footwork to stump the Black Knights. The normal seven minute halves are ramped up to ten in the finals and the extra time seemed to magnify the wear and tear on the Army squad. The first half ended with Dartmouth clearly in control of the match, up 22-5. Army would only make the trip across the line once more in the second half and fell short of The Big Green 32-10.
The Collegiate Rugby Sevens will make its return to PPL Park in 2012, just a year before the Sevens World Cup. A majority of the players on the fields this weekend will represent the USA in the World Cup and at the 2016 Olympics.
[story and photos by Christian Hafer]
You can view the full photo slide show below: