Seven of the Eight Competitive Regions are in action this weekend, and for three of them it will be the final chance for teams to try and qualify for the National Championships.
Mid-Atlantic qualification reaches its conclusion this weekend, and it appears as though it will be a dramatic finish. The Schuylkill River 7s Tournament is the fourth qualifier of the season for the Mid-Atlantic, and through the prior three tournaments it has been a tug-of-war of epic proportions between the Schuylkill River Exiles and Beltway Elite.
The two teams have met in the championship game of every tournament and on each occasion, the winning team has come from behind at the death to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. The Exiles won the first tournament, and in the past two it has been Beltway claiming victory. Saturday promises to be just as close.
This is the second time the Exiles have hosted a qualifier, and despite its young age, the tournament is already proving to be a big boost to the Mid-Atlantic and Philadelphia rugby communities. Pat Boyle, Schuylkill's Director of Rugby noted, "It means a lot to the community. The club has been a mainstay in Club 7s Rugby and having this opportunity is fitting and an honor...It's good for the Mid-Atlantic but also for Philadelphia rugby."
Not only is it good for the community, but it could very well be helpful for Schuylkill this weekend, as home ground advantage may come into play. Winning the tournament, is essentially, the Exile's only chance at qualifying for nationals. They are hoping that their fans, and even some of the other Philadelphia area teams, will be cheering them on and provide the extra push needed.
"I think there will be some support from the local community." Boyle admitted, "They know what's on the line, we'll have a slight advantage. Overall, though, I think they are just hoping for a great match. There is a lot of mutual respect between the two sides."
Respect is earned not given, and both sides have definitely earned each other's respect. In the case of the Exiles, part of the respect comes from the fact they are such a young and competitive side. Youth can, however, be a double-edged sword and according to Boyle it's the youthful nature of the team has been part of the reason why they've failed to close out the last two games.
"Pressure has been on us all year, so it hasn't been the pressure, it's been young mistakes... It will be about fine tuning the mental things making sure that the boys understand it's a fourteen-minute match not thirteen or thirteen and a half."
While in the grand scheme of things one minute or thirty seconds can seem like a negligible period of time, in sevens it can be the difference between winning and losing a game; something the Exiles are all too familiar with. From Boyle's perspective, their chances of qualifying for Nationals come down to two things: playing their brand of rugby for the full fourteen minutes and consistency.
"Looking back on the past two games, we played our brand of rugby for twelve minutes and the players believe that it was no coincidence we were in the lead; but all credit to Beltway they don't give up... consistency is key. 7s boils down to fourteen minutes of consistency."
It is also their final chance for the women to qualify, but with three spots available for the Mid-Atlantic the pressure isn't as intense. The main point of interest in the women's draw will be whether or not Scion Elite continues their dominance of the region; and whether, or not, Philadelphia Rugby will be able to have a tournament strong enough to land them in nationals.
Scion has won the previous two women's qualifiers and they have done so in convincing fashion. They will look to dominate once more in order to ply their trade in Nationals. For Philadelphia, they are on the outside looking in at Nationals right now. If they can go deep into the tournament they have a strong chance of getting into Nationals and continuing the renaissance they've been experiencing this year.
In Kansas City, the women will play their final qualifier for the Frontier Region at the Heartland 7s, and the sole qualification spot is still available. Last weekend, the Kansas City Jazz were able to bounce back after a big loss to the Rocky Mountain Magic and claim the first qualifier. Having won an away qualifier, they will like their chances at winning their home qualifier; but, they'll know they are going to get the Magic's best shot. In the event that this weekend is a reverse of last weekend, the tiebreaker for who goes to nationals will come down to points for and against.
With three spots to nationals available for the men and another qualifier to play after this weekend, the pressure isn't as high; but, teams can make an important inroad to their paths to nationals. Their first qualifier, a couple of weeks ago, provided some interesting results including Frontier debutants, Bulldog Rugby going all the way to win their first qualifier. The question that needs answering is, will they continue their winning ways and put a stamp on the region; or will stalwarts such as the Denver Barbarians are the Kansas City Blues bounce back and reclaim the region as their own?
Forest City 7s:
Preparations for the Midwest Championship continue to roll on, as teams enter the final tournament before the Midwest championships at the Cin City 7s tournament next weekend. The Midwest has a slightly different structure to many of the other regions, where qualification will be based purely off their performance at the Midwest Championships. Early indicators are that Metropolis will be a firm favorite, for the men, as they have won the first two tournaments. The Chicago Lions have been nipping at their heels all season, if they can catch them this weekend it will create an exciting rematch in the championships.
Metropolis and the Lions have been going back and forth on the women's side as well. Metropolis winning the first tournament and the Lions winning last weekend's. Cincinnati is another team to look out for in men's and women's qualifying, they have kept pace with Chicago and Metropolis throughout the season. If they can put in a big shift this weekend, it will set the perfect stage for their hometown tournament in two weeks' time.
Qualifying in the Northeast wraps up this weekend and there are still spots available and with plenty of competition for them. The Women's race is perhaps the most competitive. New York Rugby Club has been untouchable this qualifying season, and are on pace to cause havoc in the National Championships, providing they don't fall off this weekend. Right behind them are Boston Rugby and Beantown who have played some incredibly tight games this season, and are adding fuel to what is an already heated local derby. With so much to play for, each team will have to be at their best to secure a spot in Nationals.
Another New York team that has been dominant is Old Blue. They have gone 3-0 in championship games this season and will look to make it 4. They have had their hands full keeping the likes of New York Athletic Club and Mystic River at bay. Both teams have been pushing Old Blue throughout qualification and with this being the last tournament to before Nationals in the Northeast, they both will be trying to finally get the better of Old Blue.
Carlsberg Cup 7s:
Northern California teams continue to fight for a seeding in the Pacific North Championship this weekend, as they return to the field for the first time since the Western Open. With no Pacific North team able to secure a national championship berth at the Western Open, there remains only one seed available to them. The Life West Gladiators fell one game short of qualifying automatically and will now have to go through the regular qualification process. They will face tough tests from the Olympic Club who won the first Northern California tournament going 4-0. Both teams will be eager to get a solid hit out in this weekend before heading to the Pacific North Championships in two weeks' time.
On the women's side Life West and Berkeley All Blues were the two standouts at the first tournament and will once again look to put their stamp on Northern California this weekend. Expect both teams to give their all this weekend, as they will want to be as well prepared as possible for the big task ahead of them next weekend when they'll go up against the likes of Western Athletic Club (WAC) and Oregon Sports Union (ORSU).
Roy Lucas 7s:
WAC won last week's tournament and this weekend they'll look to continue their winning ways. Their main challengers will come from the likes of Boise, a team made up of top talent from Snake River and 43rd State and from the Westside Ronins. The Ronins were close to receiving an automatic bid to Nationals at the Western Open, but fell just short after losing in the semifinals.
ORSU and WAC will be the teams to watch on the women's side, and will use this tournament as another warmup for their big test, the Pacific North championships. Last weekend they got as good a warm up as they could have asked for, with the two clubs fielding two teams each.
Belmont Shore has already qualified for Nationals thanks to their performance at the Western Open and now teams will be fighting for one of the two remaining spots. Belmont dominated the last Pacific South tournament beating Santa Monica 34-7 in the championship game. The Dolphins will be looking for revenge and to sure up their position in the qualifying process by winning the tournament this weekend. They will face stiff opposition from both Belmont, and Old Mission Beach Athletic Club (OMBAC). OMBAC will hope to bounce back after a less than ideal start to their season in their home tournament. With a win or an appearance in the championship game, they should be able to create some separation from themselves and the other teams closing in on them.
Tornado Alley 7s:
Dallas made the trip out to the Eastern Open and brought a gift back to the Red River Region, another spot to play for at Nationals. Having won the Eastern Open Dallas has automatically qualified for nationals which means that another team from Red River can now qualify. It's an extra spot that was desperately needed, as in the first qualifier both Dallas's A-side and B-side made it into the championship game. The favorites to take advantage of the new qualifying position will be the semifinalists from June, New Orleans and the Austin Huns. Winning the Tornado Alley 7s will go a long way to putting on of those teams into the National Championships.
For the Women, American Pro Rugby and the Austin Valkyries will be the two favored to walk away with the silverware. American Pro was a cut above the rest at the Bloodfest 7s in June with both of their teams advancing through to the semifinals. Austin did not perform to their usual standards, but they have a strong pedigree and have been one of the most dominant 7s programs in the region, so you can expect a fired up side this weekend.