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.