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Friday, August 9, 2013

Allied Rugby Conference's 2013 Fall 7s Season


The Allied Rugby Conference (ARC) has released a Fall 2013 7s season schedule. The ARC Fall 7s Series is the first series of tournaments in which the series champion - determined by cumulative points based on their finish in all three tournaments - is granted an automatic bid to the 2013 USA Rugby College 7s National Championships. The conference returns five teams to vie for this honor: Baylor, Oklahoma, Sam Houston State, Texas A&M, and Texas Tech. Each team looks poised to improve its respective level of play from last year's series.

The tournaments will be all the more challenging as the ARC will be hosting non-conference teams at each. Additionally, solid showings at any of these tournaments by the non-conference teams will boost their chances of gaining an at-large bid to the championships.


OU pulling away from UT in 2012 ARC 7s Series
The first qualifier will be held on September 21 in Lubbock, TX on the Texas Tech pitch. It will feature six teams with reigning College 7s Champion Arkansas State rounding out the Lubbock tourney. Two pools of three teams play two preliminary matches, a semi-final, a consolation match for 5th & 6th place from the last-placed pool teams, a consolation match to determine 3rd & 4th place from the SF knockouts, then the final. The second qualifier is scheduled for October 5 in College Station and will feature the Longhorns of the University of Texas playing their former opponents in the ARC under the same format as the first qualifier. Both tournaments offer opportunities for all teams to improve their 7s depth by hosting a JV tournament to be played between the Varsity matches.

The third and final ARC qualifier will expand the pools to four teams each as Texas, Texas Christian, and the University of North Texas join the fray at Gateway Park in Ft. Worth on October 19. After this tournament's final, the Allied Rugby Conference will award the 7s Championship to the overall points leader.

Texas A&M

The Aggies graduated seven starters last Spring. Six of those started for the A&M 7s team that played at the 2012 College 7s Nationals. To say that this might be a rebuilding year for A&M might be accurate, but Coach Brett Mills looks forward to testing some solid players from the XVs season. As 7s forwards, loose forward Chris Frazier (Team Captain) and lock Phillip Hanson bring plenty of experience. Frazier is wily in traffic and has blistering pace. Hanson may lack pace, but he makes up for it with work rate and he has been playing 7s all summer. In the backs, A&M returns center J.D. Smiley and loose forward/wing Andrew Dowlearn. Smiley lit up the mid-field in XVs with an uncanny ability to slip tackles and burst away. Dowlearn played in the back row coming in as a reserve in every match for the Aggies, but he showed pace and ball-savvy against Baylor scoring a breakaway try after scooping up a bobbled pass. Mills put the youngster in at wing against Tech and he proved his mettle there by backing himself for a 60 meter try. Smiley and Dowlearn both show a love of exploiting an ounce of space. Finally, scrumhalf Matt Theodore and loose forward Alex Demblon help to round out the Aggie experience. Theodore proved the slippery eel in much of the Spring 2013 season until an ankle injury sidelined him against Air Force. Demblon is the quiet type with a phenomenal workrate. Both players are quick to the breakdowns and know their roles at each without hesitation.

Texas Tech

Tech finished the ARC's 2012 7s season in 2nd place due to being outscored by the ball-stingy Aggies in the ARC Final. Considering that the first two tournaments yielded only one pool play win for Tech, they represented well by keeping their heads up and forward. This bodes well for the Red Raiders, as they only graduated one player, the explosive and speedy Abdul Sule. Coach Grant Murchison feels his team has the ability to advance to Nationals this year. With eight solid, fit starters returning in the Fall, that may well happen. The Red Raiders enjoyed great workrate out of the locks and loose forwards last spring. Locks AJ Johnson and Trevor Olson proved they can maneuver around the pitch without a problem. This allowed the loose forward team of Nathan Hatton, Christian Knebel, and Jordan Trout to create havoc on the defense that resulted in plenty of turnovers. Any of the scrummies fit the bill for a 7s pack and Knebel has the pace to fill in as a 7s hooker. Once these forwards obtain possession, Tech's backline is well set, too. At the hinge, scrumhalf Robert Poyser and flyhalf Wes Mitchell began to operate like an old married couple. Poyser makes fast decisions and can drill a 20-25 meter pass to Mitchell who is prolific at getting clean ball to his midfield, then looping them for support. The mid-field is where Tech can be deceptively dangerous. Center Kyle Kulka may be slight of stature, but he's got a mean step, a solid tackle, and a penchant for selling defenders so that he can offload at the last possible second. His target of choice may well be fullback Jared Baird, who lacks nothing for pace on the corners and poise under the high ball. Texas A&M may be the defending ARC 7s Champions, but if any team can unseat them this Fall, it is a fully experienced Red Raider Rugby Club.

Oklahoma

The Sooners have a new coach and a fired-up attitude. Third place in the 2012 ARC 7s Series was NOT what they planned and NOT what they expected of themselves. Coach Jason Horowitz brings a wealth of representative side coaching experience to Norman, OK and he thinks, "the experience playing on (the ARC 7s Series) against some tough opposition will prove to be a strong platform to grow the program." A couple of Oklahoma ruggers spent their summer honing their 7s skills with the Denver Barbos and the Dallas Quins, respectively. Captains Bobby Impson and Michael Al-Jiboori plan to translate that experience into 7s success. Speedster Al-Jiboori is especially focused as he has formally laid down the gauntlet by stating, "this year we WILL be taken seriously." Considering that only four starting Sooners return from last year, winning the series may be a tall order. However, attitude is everything and OU seems to be fully stocked!

Sam Houston State

The 2012 7s season was a learning experience that culminated in the Bearkats taking 4th place in the ARC 7s Series after a tough loss to OU. Sam Houston spent much time restructuring their organization with a focus on their recruiting efforts even though they only graduated four XVs forwards last year and no backs.  However, Coach Frank Rizzo has two key backs and two key forwards returning this year. Flyhalf/fullback Brent Drost and center Chris Slater definitely give opponents reason to play a tight defense against Sam. Drost is a tall, fast back with excellent field vision. He can go from a jog to full pace in a step and will enjoy the space 7s affords. Slater provides devastating defense in the midfield and is no easy task to tackle. Sam Houston loves the contact area of the game, so expect them to hit hard and hit often to get the turnover ball where they are the most dangerous to their opponents.

Baylor

Last season was Baylor's first year of playing 7s and some of the scorelines showed just that. Coach Josh Neff is looking forward to bringing in 4-6 freshmen from HS rugby programs around the country to bolster a team that lost five starters to graduation. Neff intends to look to his leaders, prop Khoby Moore and utility back Stormy Weiss, to bring rugby nous and experience to his 7s team. Moore is a strong and agile forward who will do the grunt work. Weiss is the playmaker who grew as an on-field leader last season to become team captain. Additionally, second-year player Vincente Chavez on the wing had "his rugby moment" last year and turned into a real threat on the corners. With solid coaching, player retention and a great attitude, the Bears look to play pattern and space to attack aggressively and catch unawares those that dare overlook them.

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