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The 6th Annual RugbyTown Sevens (RT7s) tournament promised World Class Rugby, and it delivered with a full slate of eight semifinal matches, followed by the crowning of winners in the Shield, Bowl, Plate and Cup.
“As you can see, there are many world class ruggers here,” Glendale Mayor Mike Dunafon said following the conclusion of the tournament. “This is the caliber that RugbyTown 7s brings to rugby in the United States. This is what is elevating the great game of rugby world-wide. That’s what’s happening here in RugbyTown, USA.”
The winners of the RT7s Cup – marking the overall RT7s tournament champion – would also walk away with the $10,000 winner-take-all tournament purse. That team would be newcomers and fan favorites Fiji (SAVU Water), also known as the Viti Barbarians, who defeated U.K. based Ramblin Jesters 31-14 in the Championship Cup Final.
It marked a re-match between the two sides, who started the tournament with arguably its most entertaining game, as well as perhaps the most shocking upset on Friday, before eventually advancing as co-winners of Pool C at the conclusion of pool play on Saturday.
The Jesters won that matchup in a shocking 26-21 result in pool play, and again started the final in convincing fashion, scoring the game’s first try to take a 7-0 lead. Fiji answered, but another Jesters try gave the U.K. based club a 14-7 lead five minutes into the championship match. Fiji again answered but the second try went unconverted, giving the Jesters a slight 14-12 edge at the half.
After a sin binning to the Jesters, Fiji took advantage in the dying seconds of the man advantage to score a try and take their first lead of the game, at 19-14. A second yellow card infraction would lead to the Jesters finishing the game a man down and Fiji took advantage, cruising to the eventual 31-14 win.
Despite the loss, the Jesters – which finished third in last year’s RT7s – were grateful to share the pitch with a team of Fiji’s class.
“Fiji are the best sevens country in the world,” Jesters captain Harry McNulty said following the loss. “It was the most incredible experience I’ve had on a rugby pitch.”
Waisale Serevi, who took to the pitch in a Fiji kit at the age of 49-years-old, gave thanks to his supporting cast.
“I’d like to thank all for giving us the opportunity to be here,” Serevi said. “It’s been a hard week. I thank the boys for the effort.”
Prior to the final, the day’s early action saw the elimination of both local favorites and last year’s tournament finalists, defending champions Denver 7s and last year’s runner-up, Glendale, who participated in this year’s edition of the tournament for the first time under the Glendale Merlins moniker.
“We were poor this a.m. and the score reflected that,” lamented Glendale head coach David Williams. “We came back into the game but gave ourselves too much to do.”
The Merlins will look to re-focus their effort as they collectively prepare for the upcoming competitive 15s season set to kick off on Sept. 9 (1 p.m.) at Infinity Park.
U.S. Army, another fan favorite after winning the Military Championship on Saturday, were eliminated from vying for additional silverware after a narrow 17-14 loss to the 1823 Rugby Tigers, who punched their ticket to the Plate final on a late try.
Supporters of the United States Armed Forces teams would be delighted to witness two other armed forces teams vying for silverware in the Shield final. In a pacey back-and-forth affair, Navy took home the Shield after defeating their U.S. Coast Guard brethren by a score of 24-17.
“Hats off to the Coast Guard,” said Navy head coach Koma Gandy Fischbein. “They took it to us and didn’t give us an inch.”
In the Plate final, the 1823 Rugby Tigers would go on to defeat Texas-based club Negro Y Azul by a score of 24-5 to secure the Plate.
“It was a great weekend,” 1823 prop Sebastian Kalm said following the win. “A lot of us have played against each other throughout the years but it was good to be on top.”
Azul ended its 2017 RT7s campaign with a loss, but remained gracious in defeat.
“We just hope that we can come back in the future. It’s an opportunity,” said Negro y Azul captain John Sullivan.
The Bowl final pitted two teams filled with young and upcoming talent with development programs Atavus All-Stars facing the USA Collegiate All-Americans. After a hard-fought quarter hour, the All-Americans were handed the Bowl following a 25-7 win.
“It’s been a long weekend,” said Atavus winger Tim Stanfil following the match. “Hats off to the collegiate All-Americans. We’ve just got to strap up and try to get better.”
All-Americans captain Cody Melphy took the moment to acknowledge the hundreds of fans that came out over the course of the three-day tournament.
Said Melphy, “This is really what makes the sport grow; the fans.”
The third-place game would pit recent Club 7s National Champions Rugby Utah against the British Army. In convincing fashion, Utah defeated their opponents in a 38-0 shutout. The third-place finish marked the highest of any American team at the 2017 RugbyTown Sevens.
All in all, this year’s RugbyTown Sevens marked another step forward for the tournament and the future of the sport of rugby in the United States.
“I want this tournament to be the biggest 7s tournament in the world,” said an optimistic Serevi. “I’d like to thank the City of Glendale, the Mayor and Infinity Park.”
Featured Image Credit: RugbyTown 7s, Seth McConnell