|The San Diego and Seattle squads. Image: USA Rugby|
The Philadelphia team with only 9 men on their roster according to the USA Rugby release (which also had some players on multiple teams and some teams listed with more than 12 players so may not have been entirely accurate) surprised a lot of rugby fans. Salt Lake City also showed well, elevating in each match to go from shutouts to causing upsets Day 2. Washington DC is another team that really came together over the course of the tournament and defied lower expectations. Fans couldn't fully stream matches due to the faulty feed (and the Friday games that conflicted with normal working hours), though social media was full of live reports.
Bottom line - as expected with any rugby tournament preparation, everyone handled their team in different ways, built rosters in different ways, trained in different ways. If the rules with player eligibility weren't clear, we cannot really fault the teams that took advantage of it and built the strongest squads possible. This was an event to win and play against the best teams in the world (some of our Central Coast 7s foes will be participating in World Club 7s) and Seattle decidedly won it all with their on-field performances and earned their tickets to Twickenham. Regardless of the politics, their players did the work.
I'd personally like to see this tournament move to later in the summer when more of the athletes involved will be in a 7s sort of mind frame and 7s physical shape. Some players were involved in 15s playoffs only one week prior to the event and the transition from 15s to 7s can take some time to click. World Club 7s - the real end goal of winning Elite City 7s - takes place the weekend of August 17th so there would be time to host this tournament later in the summer.
Our US Club 7s Nationals are the weekend prior to Twickenham, so assembling a city team to travel to the UK based on that performance is not realistically feasible for logistic/planning purposes. But why not set up this tournament to take place over the extended 4th of July weekend? Or in early August after regional 7s qualifying is done and teams have 2-3 open weekends prior to nationals? Or run it on 3-4 different dates, grow the concept of Elite City 7s with a West Coast tournament, East Coast tournament and something hosted in the Heartland with an iRB like points system for placing each weekend? These teams would benefit train for something more than just a one-off event, develop chemistry, and let's really see what happens at tournaments two and three! Players with cohesion, confidence, and better timing with their teammates would certainly perform better and make some of the matchups more challenging.
|Image: USA Rugby|
For the future, clear and public regulations regarding team rosters and sizes would be help. Earlier roster releases could draw more publicity and social media for the event in featuring player profiles and allowing rugby publications to analyze matchups and better speculate the outcomes. Event sponsorship can and should grow. The correct scores listed on the USA Rugby site and twitter feed, which still lists Chicago as beating Ohio on Day 1 when the score was 17-0 to Ohio among other errors, would also help legitimize the tournament.
To enhance the tournament buildup, attract more fans, enhance media presence and attract sponsorships, another idea would be to combine either a one-off tournament or multiple legs of a series with the CRC or LVI events. The CRC has a solid fan base and a television contract and the Elite City 7s teams matchups would balance nicely with the college games. The LVI could create a bracket for the Elite City 7s team to compete in or just enter these sides in the premier men's festival that takes place next to USA 7s. The LVI could also allow elite Canadian clubs to compete for a World Club 7s spot too..... and yes we all know wthe CRC is run entirely separate from USA Rugby but these organizations should look at partnering in some way to play off each other's strengths to grow the game. To keep it short: one has the best players, the other has the best television deals.
Additionally, it would make sense to get rid of the complicated seeding situation and Day Two byes to expand this to a 16 team tournament. New York should have to earn their way just like any other club; though they placed 5th at last year's World Club 7s event, that was with national team players like Carlin Isles added to their "city" roster (plus the Boston team had a roster with some NY players on it anyways). Add in the likes of Los Angeles, Minneapolis or Hawaii for more reach in rugby rich areas.
Most important to add to the mix would be a team from Atlanta to take advantage of the depth of talent in the South . 8 of the 16 teams in the Men's Collegiate 7s National Championships were from this region while NOLA and Atlanta Old White who each made the Cup Round of last years club championships; NOLA that made the 15s D1 Final against South rival Life while Atlanta upset a strong Charlotte side to make it to USA Rugby D2 Nationals..You could easily seed a team or two in that region - especially with someone like the Arkansas-based Julie McCoy coaching!
Curtis Reed of This is American Rugby has more thoughts on the matter via his article on RugbyRugby.com:
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.
Curtis Reed is the founder and editor of This Is American Rugby. He can be found on Twitter @ThisIsAmerRugby, on Facebook, and at www.thisisamericanrugby.com