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Qualification for the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship returns to the Las Vegas Invitational in 2015, as the winner of the Penn Mutual CRC division will win an automatic bid to the crown jewel of college 7s. Three days of play from Feb. 12-14 will culminate in the final being played inside Sam Boyd Stadium during a break in Saturday’s IRB World Series action.
“It gives us a great opportunity to see some of the teams out there that are working on perfecting their 7s programs and looking for the opportunity to compete on the national level on national TV,” said Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship tournament director Donal Walsh.
“It gives a great start to the 7s season. It gives a great opportunity for the teams that are competing, that they get to play in front of 30,000 at the final in the stadium in Vegas, as well as to compete in front international coaches from all over the world.”
The LVI housed a CRC qualification bracket in 2011 and 2012, with Central Washington and Life winning, respectively. In 2011, CWU beat Kutztown in Sam Boyd in front of NBC cameras using the match as a dry run before the main event broadcast. In 2012, Life edged Utah in a thrilling final in front of a full crowd inside the stadium.
Those tournaments were arguably the best college 7s tournaments around at the time, with better teams, pound-for-pound, than USA Rugby’s 7s National Championships, and perhaps even the CRC proper. Outside of the IRB tournament itself, the CRC qualifier was the most-watched event of the week. That crowd that watched Life edge Utah in the final in 2012 is still the largest to ever take in a college 7s match between two American teams.
In 2013 and 2014, the college 7s bracket expanded to include Canadian sides, and the University of Victoria, the alma mater of many Canadian 7s National Team players, won back-to-back titles. To accommodate international sides, there will be two college divisions at the 2015 LVI – one for American teams hoping to gain a berth to the Penn Mutual CRC, and one for everyone else.
Penn Mutual CRC organizers are working to add more qualification opportunities, too. As in the past, select conference 7s championships will likely garner qualification status, and there's even talk of another open qualification tournament.
Registration for the LVI, which falls on Valentine’s Day weekend and is a four-day weekend thanks to President’s Day, is currently open.