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Day Two at 2017 USA Club Rugby 7s National Championships went a lot better, both for the Beltway Elite and me personally. In the first match against the eventual Bowl winners, the Dallas Reds, I got my first start of my career at 7s Nationals. Unfortunately, I can’t say that I made the most of it. I wasn’t very happy with my performance and we lost a sloppy, rainy match 5-0 on the last play. We fought hard, but just came up short on the scoreboard. I was proud of Beltway’s heart, if not its play all the way through.
In game two, we played against our Mid-Atlantic foes, Schuylkill River. It was like we needed to see some familiar faces to finally play our game. It’s easy to say that when you’ve lost the matches before that, but we truly did what we should have done in the first four games; play gritty, possession rugby. This game went down to the wire, as it usually does when Beltway plays Schuylkill. I came in the second half and scored the first two tries of my Nationals career, the second of which ended up being the game winner.
We had to buck up and play some hard defense for the last minute, but we got the win against a team that missed out on the Cup Quarterfinals via point differential. It was a great team win that I won’t forget and showed the true potential of the Beltway Elite.
In the third match, we lost another rainy, sloppy match, this time to a very strong Charlotte team. I propped against my buddy/rival from Capital Selects-USA South matches, Matt Hughston. It’s always fun playing against the former PRO Rugby flanker and he characteristically had a strong game. We played fairly well against Charlotte, but couldn’t finish some breaks and eventually were handed a 14-0 loss.
With the play over for the weekend, it was time to have a few cold ones with the boys before the Men’s and Women’s finals. I helped my Rugby Today colleagues with some pictures and interviews and it was well worth the price to be feet from the sidelines during these two fantastic matches.
The women played first in the Cup Final that pitted Seattle Atavus versus the San Diego Surfers. Seattle struck first before the Surfers answered just before the half to make it seven-all at the break. In the second stanza, San Diego’s number seven notched her second long try and the conversion put Atavus up 14-7.
San Diego answered with a long break and was awarded a penalty try for a high tackle, putting Seattle a woman down. Seattle refused to relent and scored to go up 21-14, then sealed the win with another try to end the match. Seattle’s Megan Sanders was awarded the well-earned MVP of the women’s tournament.
Next up was the men’s final between Frontier rivals, Denver and Utah. Utah struck first after an early yellow card to Denver. Utah got a yellow card after a huge collision that sent tournament MVP Don Pati to the bin. Denver capitalized with two tries from Michael Al-Jiboori just before and right after halftime to take a commanding 21-5 lead. Pati came back on after the second conversion with about five and a half minutes to go and immediately made an impact with the “hockey” assist to close the gap to 21-10. Utah struck again and the conversion clanked off the right goal post to make it 21-15, Denver.
With only 30 seconds left, Denver fielded the kickoff with an incredible one-man lift and just needed to wind down the clock. But a clearance kick missed touch and it was Pati who recovered. He made the break, offloaded to Josh Anderson who centered the try, and Jared Whippy converted to give Utah its second straight National Championship.
My personal takes from the weekend: the athleticism on display in the final was unbelievable. At one point I turned to the crowd and said to my frenemies from Schuylkill, “I don't think I can do any of that.” They of course quickly informed me that, no, I can’t.
As I’d mentioned in my Day One diary, we had played Rugby Utah, now a two-time National Champion, to a draw for seven minutes. Unfortunately, being blooded at the next level is part of the growing process and Beltway sure was blooded this weekend. The future of this team is bright and it will be better from this experience. That half of rugby showed where this team’s true potential lies.
Unfortunately, I likely will not be part of that growing process as I’m moving back to Pennsylvania. I’ll be playing for my hometown squad Old Gaelic, a Division II playoff team, based just outside of Harrisburg, Pa. This was probably my last run at the top level. I’d sure have liked to have won a couple more games, but I wouldn’t trade the summer for anything.
We won the Mid-Atlantic 7s Championship in epic fashion. I played with and against professionals and USA Eagles. I met a bunch of my media contacts in person for the first time. And just plain had fun playing rugby with some super-talented players.
Now, I’ll be chasing that elusive National Championship with my hometown squad for as long as I’m blessed to play this game. I may not be reporting on myself anymore (thank goodness, I feel like an egomaniac every time that assignment comes around), but you’ll still be hearing from me on the Rugby Today scene.
Thank you to the Beltway coaches, to my teammates and to USA Rugby for putting on a great event. Bye-bye for now. Diegel, out.
Alexander is a beat reporter for Rugby Today, published author, freelance sports writer and club rugby player for the Potomac Exiles and the Beltway Elite 7s. For more rugby action and his sports takes, follow him on Twitter @alexanderdiegel.