This weekend, for the first time in its history, USA Rugby will be offering automatic qualifiers for its Club 7s National Championship. The Eastern Open will pit eight of the top programs in the across multiple states against one another, replicating a condensed version of the National Championship structure.
This weekend, for the first time in its history, USA Rugby will be offering automatic qualifiers for its Club 7s National Championship. The Eastern Open will pit eight of the top programs in the across multiple states against one another, replicating a condensed version of the National Championship structure. The winner will secure their birth in nationals, weeks ahead of schedule, and with changes to the seeding allotments this season the automatic qualification will have a massive impact on those in and out of the tournaments this weekend.
Teams from as far as Texas will travel to one of the premier locations for 7s in the east, this weekend to attempt to bypass their regional qualifiers and book their spot in nationals. North Virginia will host the tournament this weekend, and it is only fitting that one of the most successful 7s clubs in the country plays host to the historic event. In total eight teams from four different competitive regions will be vying for the automatic qualifier. While an opportunity to automatically qualify for nationals is always a big event, the Eastern Open gains added importance from the fact that three out of the four regions represented only have one spots available through regional qualifiers.
For the Chicago Lions, while they compete in the Midwest which will receive two seeds through regional qualifiers, nothing is guaranteed for them. The Lions will not know if they have qualified until the Midwest Championship, at the end of July. Qualifying this weekend would be huge for them, according to their head coach David Fee, "That makes this tournament all that much more important. Have a bad day, a bad final, a bad minute or decision at Midwest and we could be home watching."
On the other half of the spectrum are teams like Dallas Rugby, who play in the Red River which only guarantees one playoff berth to its constituents. Dallas, got their season off to a hot start last weekend at the Bloodfest 7s where the two teams they entered wound up facing each other in the championship match. Despite the hot start, Dallas knows not to count their chickens before they hatch and this qualifying this weekend would be a massive boost to their preparations. Head coach Chris Howard elaborated, "They played well and stuck with the system... but the injury bug could always hit and so we can't take anything for granted... With the depth that we have I want to be able to qualify as many people as possible so that if we do qualify this weekend... we can go in with the strongest position possible...New Orleans will be getting their pro players back.. you never know what you're going to get week to week... I could easily see them taking one of the remaining qualifiers."
The quality of the teams in the Eastern Open, hasn't been lost on the Lions or Dallas and they know that they will have to be at their top of their game during every contest, if they are to have any chance of punching their ticket to nationals this weekend. "In today's game, many teams have the pieces to win. We know Schuylkill River, Rocky Gorge and Northern Virginia all advanced to the Semi's last weekend at Beltway...we expect them all to be tough," Fee noted. Howard was shared similar sentiments, but wants his team more focused on what they are playing rather than who. "I'm a big proponent of keeping that clean sheet. Defense is what we've built our patterns on... we will look to rely on that when fatigue sets in."
After receiving an automatic bid for nationals, one could forgive teams if they took their foot off the gas a bit and went into their shells in order to prevent injuries, or fatigue as they head into the National Championship; but it's becoming apparent, that's not what teams are looking to do. For Howard, if they win he will use the opportunity to qualify as many of his players as possible for National Championships to create a deep pool and also given uncertainty around seeding he wants to be in the strongest position possible. "Winning this weekend will allow me to shuffle the players a little bit differently. Every weekend is a must win. I still want to secure the top position. We will continue business as usual... Last year we qualified 18 players, we will be setting a similar target this year." For Fee he'll use his automatic bid for similar purposes, "It effects our preparation, should we win and secure a Nationals birth, in that we can choose to truly focus on development and depth. Knowing we have a spot locked up, we can look at improving that depth, and challenge guys in quality environments with quality minutes."
The Eastern Open is shaping up to be a tightly contested affair, and one that will be fought tooth and nail until the final whistle is blow.