Article by Chad Wise | Originally published at usarugby.org
DES MOINES, Iowa – Denver Barbarians will wait another year for their first USA Rugby Emirates Airline Men’s Club 7s National Championship after a defeat to three-time defending title-holders Seattle Saracens in the 2015 Final Sunday at James W. Cownie Soccer Complex.
Ata Malifa, named Smith and Forge Hard Cider at the end of the day, filled in for Maximo de Achaval on day two in Des Moines, after the long-time Denver captain returned home for a prior commitment. Without skipping a beat, the Barbarians continued their unbeaten run to the Final with a last-gasp defeat of 1823 in the Semifinal. Down, 12-10, in the dying seconds of the Semifinal, Ben Pinkelman created a turnover and Ke’von Williams ran close to the length of the pitch with Martin Iosefo in support. Williams found the capped Eagle for the game-winning try.
Seattle lost its first competitive sevens match on U.S. soil in three years during pool play Sunday, and did not want to lose a second. Despite Mystic River’s successes in Iowa, including an impressive, 24-5, defeat of Army in the Cup Quarterfinal, Saracens’ warpath went through the Boston-based club in the Semifinal.
“Because Seattle scored early [in the Semifinal], confidence got up, etc., and then that carried on,” Men’s Eagles Sevens Assistant Coach Chris Brown said prior to the Final. “Mystic River needed to hold them early, then outplay them. Because they didn’t they couldn’t control the game. If [Mystic River] played anyone else, I would’ve picked them to win the whole thing.”
With one of the longer breaks between matches, the men’s teams took to the stadium pitch in the last action of the day. Logan Collins put Denver ahead in the first minute of the match after Malifa and Williams each stepped around a couple of defenders in Seattle’s half.
The World-Class Athlete Program’s Eric Duechle forced a turnover with a tackle at midfield in the fourth minute before capped sevens Eagles Miles Craigwell leveled the match with a try, and Jope Motokana converted to give Saracens the lead.
Minutes later, Bobby Impson gave Denver a 10-7 lead by taking the ball from the ruck at Seattle’s 10 and beating defenders to the try zone. Duechle fended a Barbarian at midfield in the ninth minute and dove over the line in the corner to restore Seattle’s lead, and successive penalties against Denver in its defensive half allowed William Rasileka to stroll over the line for a 19-10 halftime lead.
The half began with Rasileka’s second try directly from the second-half restart, and a yellow card to Saracens in the 16th minute was not enough for Denver to get back into the match. Emosi Bainivalu added a try in the 20th minute for good measure to bring the final score to 26-10.
After defeating Old Blue in the 2014 Cup Final with a last-minute try, Seattle’s three-peat plans came under fire Saturday. Rocco Mauer, who scored that try last year, recognized no games, let alone championships, come easy.
“My opportunity came last year,” Mauer said. “I was just trying to play in the structure of the team. Teams are getting better; we’re trying to get better. Denver gave us a great game and they’re a great team. We were upset [Saturday] when we lost, and we didn’t want that to happen again.”
The loss continues Denver’s streak of appearances (22 in total, 15 consecutive) at Club 7s without a championship victory. The Barbarians lost last year’s third-place match to Kansas City, which rebounded from a winless pool campaign to beat Santa Monica in the Bowl Final. Old Blue was within 20 meters of defeating Seattle in the Cup Quarterfinal, and shut out Army before winning the Plate at the expense of Schuylkill River.