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The most competitive group at the 2017 USA Rugby Emirates Airline Men's Club 7s National Championship in Minneapolis, Minn. is Pool B. There will be no shortage of talent in Pool B and no clear cut favorites to move onto Sunday's cup rounds. Both Old Blue and the Washington Athletic Club feature a handful of capped Eagles, while the Dallas Reds and Metropolis certainly are threats.

Old Blue (Atlantic North #1, #3 Overall)

Old Blue is a two-time National Champion and a perennial contender with 15 total appearances at Nationals. It has a strong player base from its 15s campaign to go with current Eagles such as Luke Hume and Nate Augspurger. In terms of experience, cohesion and talent, Old Blue will be one of the most balanced teams in the tournament.

“We’ve been together as a core group now for a couple of seasons; some of the leadership even longer,” said Old Blue coach Dom Wareing. “From there, we’ve recruited pretty well in the 15s season and that’s allowed us to bring the guys through to the 7s season.”

Old Blue is also one of the deeper teams in the nation. With 20 different players suiting up for the premier side through the qualifier season, final roster decisions were difficult for Wareing. Along with Hume and Augspurger, the team is captained by Alex Schwarz and features the emerging Connor Wallace-Sims. For all the talent, it's a sense of camaraderie that Wareing pointed to as a key that’s gotten Old Blue this far, and will power the Atlantic North champs to the quarterfinals.

“It’s a band of brothers, a group that’s very tightknit,” said Wareing. “We’re definitely there for each other, will stick up for each other, will trust each other. That’s definitely helped us throughout the season when we’ve had our backs against the wall and been in a couple of tight spots.”

Old Blue Projected Roster

  • Alex Schwarz
  • Bobby McMahon
  • Connor Wallace-Sims
  • Derek Lipscomb
  • Gavan D’Amore MOorrison
  • Keenan Jacobs
  • Luke Hume
  • Mike St. Claire
  • Nate Augspurger
  • Paris Hollis
  • Rick Kirkland
  • Sam Bright
  • Dylan Carrion

Dallas Reds (Red River #1, #12 Overall)

Dallas came out as the #1 seed from the very competitive Red River to earn its fifth appearance at Nationals and first since 2015. The Reds feature a strong core from their 15s squad and added some explosive scholarship football and track athletes from TCU, University of Houston, and Texas A&M.

The Reds have plenty of offensive talent, especially in the forms of former Arkansas State All-American Dean Gericke and Narada Jackson’s 10.41 second 100 meter time. However, it’s defense, structure and patience that Dallas coach Chris Howard believes will see his team through to the knockout round.

“We have a system set up and the bottom line is when we play the pattern, we win,” explained Howard. “We’ve got plenty of guys that can run the ball and move the ball and create space. [But] they’ve got to trust each other and be patient.”

Howard’s ties to the Northeast and affiliation with Tiger Rugby give him a strong sense of what to expect from two of the other teams in his pool. “I’m very familiar with Old Blue. I know what system [Steve Lewis] put in before going onto Connecticut. You just can’t make mistakes against a team like that. With Washington, it was good on Life West beating them, but I have to say I was surprised with that outcome. The long and short of it is, when you’ve got a team of all stars, they don’t seem to have the gel of the team quite yet. That’s where our opportunities lie.”

Dallas Reds Projected Roster

  • Blake Boulton
  • Brendan Pahulu
  • Chad Joseph
  • Dean Gericke
  • Melvin Eric Pauni
  • Jake Campey
  • Jonny Heron
  • Kelly Kolberg
  • Lee Foliaki
  • Narada Jackson
  • Sam Rabb
  • Spencer Cameron
  • Zack Klump
  • Lucas Bersin

Washington Athletic Club (Pacific North #2, #13 Overall)

The Washington Athletic Club (WAC) is a talented team that can beat anyone in this tournament. The second-place finish in the Pacific North was a bit of a disappointment, but the squad has the firepower led by current or former Eagles Kevin Swiryn, Peter Tiberio, Shalom Suniula, Aladdin Schirmer, and player-coach Mike Palefau to “turn it on” and make a run.

Palefau has a balanced roster full of experience and athleticism. He will look for his veterans to continue to keep the youngsters on point in the high-pressure moments. “There are a lot of guys who have been at it for a while now. Having them around is great for the young guys and helps keep things settled.” Palefau also pointed to precision and “being in the right places at the right time” as keys that will see his squad through to the quarterfinals.

Washington has a lot of familiarity with Old Blue, but not as much with Dallas and Metropolis. So it will need to be on its toes to advance. “We don't know very much about Dallas or Metropolis aside from a few players. However, we're very familiar with Old Blue. We've had some great battles with them over the years and it's always a hard-fought contest.”

Washington Athletic Club Projected Roster

  • Mike Palefau
  • Kevin Swiryn
  • Peter Tiberio
  • Shalom Suniula
  • Aladdin Schirmer
  • Matt Turner
  • William Rasileka
  • Ryan Snider
  • Kellen Gordon
  • Sequoyah Burke-Combs
  • Caleb Nonoa
  • Dion Crowder
  • Psalm Wooching
  • Isaiah Chinen
  • Tyler Coffman
  • Joe Montgomery
  • Mike Shepherd

Metropolis RFC (Midwest #2, #7 Overall)

Last, but certainly not least in Pool B is Metropolis RFC. Metropolis returns to Nationals for the first time since 2003 and will make its sixth appearance in club history.

With some former U-20/youth Eagles such as Eka Veamatahau and Jojo Tikoisuva Metropolis has its share of offensive firepower. But it’s the defense that will ultimately determine this team’s hopes.

“Our defense is what can make us stand out and play at another level,” explained Metro coach Charlie Baleirara. “If we play great defense, bring the intensity and play our system, we can play with anyone.” 

Metro has a tough pool to come out of, a fact that is not lost on Baleirara. “We know Old Blue has been a strong program for years. Washington has an influx of Seattle and Atavus players, so we know they will be strong as well. We played Dallas in the Gold Cup in the past and know they will have a group of skilled and athletic players. At this level, mistakes lead to tries for the opposition. You can't give up any freebees and expect to win.”

Metropolis Projected Roster

  • Eka Veamatahau
  • Simeon Tschumper
  • Pita Naruma
  • Carter Beelman
  • Peceli Rinakama
  • Jack Finigan
  • Jojo Tikoisuva
  • Kavika Peniata
  • Patrick Bailey
  • Trace Bolstad
  • Zachary Schwartz
  • Randy Tanaka
  • Melvin Desouza  

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.