By Ira Josephs | Article originally published by Philadelphia Inquirer
The Philadelphia-Whitemarsh Rugby Football Club, playing before a home crowd of more than 3,000 fans, yesterday won the first national championship in its glorious history.
Philadelphia-Whitemarsh overcame Northern Virginia, 26-19, in the USA Rugby National Sevens Club championship final at A.A. Garthwaite Stadium in Conshohocken to finish the two-day tournament with a 6-0 record.
Born in 1985 of a merger between the Philadelphia and Whitemarsh clubs, Philadelphia-Whitemarsh has long been one of the East's rugby powerhouses. The national title further validates the club's elite status.
"It doesn't get any bigger," said Keith McLean, a Conestoga High graduate and the club's oldest Sevens player at 39. "It's the biggest victory I've ever had. There are a lot of big games, but a national championship is something you take with you forever. It was a complete team effort."
McLean - who has played rugby for 16 years, 11 with Philadelphia-Whitemarsh - and his teammates entered the match against Northern Virginia as decided underdogs. Although the Sevens game is built for speed, Philadelphia-Whitemarsh won without being one of the fastest clubs in the 16-team field.
"I came in dreaming we could win it, but not imagining we could do it," Philadelphia-Whitemarsh coach Emil Signes said. "We were one of the slower teams, but we relied on teamwork and effort."
McLean scored the squad's first try against Northern Virginia after receiving a lateral pass from Jack Foley, who had rescued the ball from a falling Brian Driscoll. Vaughn Crowe, who kicked all four conversions, ran in the second try.
After Northern Virginia cut the gap to 14-7, McLean evaded a tackler and dished to Foley, who zigzagged downfield for the team's third try. Northern Virginia cut the score to 19-12, but Marc Frey provided the final try for Philadelphia-Whitemarsh on a nice feed from Driscoll.
Although Northern Virginia scored once more, John McGeachy made a game-saving tackle on the club's final opportunity.
Most of Philadelphia-Whitemarsh's 75 members piled onto the field for what might have been the largest scrum in club history.
"It's the biggest thing in our club," said captain Jim Brill, a La Salle High graduate. "We were underdogs, and Northern Virginia was a heavy favorite. It's all about momentum."
After going 3-0 in Saturday's pool play, Philadelphia-Whitemarsh advanced to the final by beating Baltimore Chesapeake, 14-12, and Orlando, 24-0.In the Women's Invitational Tournament, Maryland-Berkeley topped West Select, 31-7, for the title.
Date: August 14-15, 1999
Location: Conshohocken, Pennsylvania
Men's Final Standings:
1. Philadelphia-Whitemarsh Rugby
2. Northern Virginia Rugby
3. Seattle Fiji
4. Orlando Rugby
5. Tempe Old Devils
6. Baltimore-Chesapeake Brumbies
7. Elvis at the Opry Rugby
8. St. Louis Bombers
9. Belmont Shore Rugby
10. Louisville Rugby
11. Hartford Rugby
11. Kansas City Blues
13. Montauk Sharks
13. Olympic Club Rugby
13. Oregon Sports Union
13. Sacramento Capitals