Wednesday, April 6, 2016

KRC 7s Tourney, One Leg to Go

By Brendan Triplett

April 6, 2016

Over the weekend we witnessed another bout of collegiate rugby in a tournament where the best of the best in conference teams were pitted against one another in the Keystone Rugby Conference Rugby 7s Tournament.  In the second part of the tournament we saw the strengths come out in some of our good teams and even saw a few weaknesses leak through, allowing us to see some excellent games and attritional rugby across the board.

James Madison University, as was predicted, came into the three part series firing on all pistons.  Without missing a beat they swept the first leg of the tournament taking first place in the cup final over Temple University (7-21).  They did not disappoint moving into the second leg of the tournament, but faltered against West Virginia (22-12) and settled for a resounding win over Saint Joseph’s (7-40) to secure their Third place in the cup consolation final and maintain a position at the top of the conference with 36 points.

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Temple University, who struggled against James Madison in the first leg (7-21), never met the team during pool play or the finals in the second leg and swept pool play and took a win over West Virginia (19-14) to win a first place, cup final, home victory that set them up with 36 points putting them neck and neck with James Madison as they move into the final leg of the tournament.  Where James Madison made a few errors that cost them, Temple has capitalized on the pitch and will be riding that momentum into the last leg of the tournament looking to bring home a big win in not only the last leg but for the tournament overall.  They will be dangerous.

West Virginia is a force to be reckoned with and in both the first leg and this weekend’s games they continue to show why they belong in the top rankings of the conference.  The first leg left them with a tough loss in the plate final against Saint Joseph’s (17-19) but that gave them the motivation to put the work in push themselves into the Cup Final against Temple falling only a few points short from a win (14-19) but still walking away from the tournament thus far at third in the conference with 30 points overall.

St. Joseph’s, after coming off of a great tournament in Bermuda, brought a strong showing to both legs, jockeying position with the other top three teams and setting themselves apart from the competition by playing a faster brand of rugby, utilizing experience that only a select group of teams can pull from.  Work done during LVI 7s and Bermuda 7s is showing and they are playing a steady game and battering down the competition.  Saturday they stumbled against James Madison (7-40) but at 29 points and 4th in the tournament ranking they are only a win or two away from glory.  Saint Jo’s “never say die” attitude will make them more dangerous as they look to unseat the favorites of JMU and Temple.

There were standout performances by all of the teams that played but there was special interest placed in newcomers Rowan University as they looked to make a name for themselves in the tournament.  They didn’t disappoint and held Millersville to a tight game losing only by a few points (19-21) and beat out favorites Villanova in the bowl semifinal (26-5) to tie Shippensburg (0-0) in an unplayed Bowl Final.  This ended their run with a tie and 10 points for the weekend.  A solid performance all-around.

The bottom line is this, we know who the top teams are – Temple, West Virginia, James Madison, Saint Joseph’s, and Pittsburgh.  The line in the sand has been drawn.  These teams have the depth and breadth to expand the game, they have the experience to draw from and they have the ability to adapt their rugby styles to lessons they have learned on the road and across the country.  We spoke earlier in the season about how the face of rugby would be changing.  The game is faster, there are more successful offloads than we have seen before, and the players are becoming incredibly interchangeable across the pitch.  Nine points separate the top of this group from the bottom and despite the great distance that it looks to be, we can be sure that we are witnessing the evolution of the sport.  The last leg of the tournament is coming up on April 16th at West Chester University and it will be a battle to the finish.  Everyone will be looking to James Madison and Temple to duke it out in a massive cup final but West Virginia and Saint Jo’s will be pulling all the stops to rise to the top.  Nine point separate these times.  Nine points… the equivalent to a win here or a loss there that could change the entire competition.  If you haven’t been to the tournament yet then show up because this finale will have some hard hits and some finesse on the pitch that will be turning heads to take notice and will make it exactly what it is, a championship 7s tournament.  There is no room for mistakes when the points are this close but hey… I wouldn’t want it any other way.  Would you?  Ruck on.

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