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The Utah NDA clinched a spot at August nationals thanks to its second cup victory in as many tournaments. The NDA defeated the Denver Barbarians in the final and with one tournament to play Denver and the Kansas City Blues are in a fight for the second berth to the nationals.
Despite missing four top players to Tiger Rugby for the weekend, Utah improved its undefeated record in 7s play this summer to 18-0. The NDA went undefeated in pool play, beating Denver in the process.
“The guys continue to scratch and claw their way ahead,” said Utah NDA coach Ben Nicholls said, “We still need some more consistency in key areas if we’re going to expect good things at nationals and beyond. But I like the guys’ attitudes and work ethic.”
Utah knocked off Glendale in the semifinals but had to wait through an extended delay due to lightning for the final. The final did not disappoint, as it was a tight 24-21 affair.
Utah struck first but the Barbarians responded almost immediately with a converted try to take a 7-5 lead. The NDA responded with a try prior to halftime to take 12-7 lead going into the break.
Denver put a lot of pressure on Utah in the second stanza forcing some mistakes. The teams went back and forth with Nicholls indicating that they may have been the recipients of some lucky breaks to come out on top.
“We have played them three times and whenever we play Denver it is punch for punch and the final was the exact same way,” Nicholls said of the matchup with Denver. “Openly and honestly I think we were lucky at the death. There were a couple of calls that went our way and not theirs.”
With the second tournament victory, Utah clinched a spot at nationals. For a program in its first season fielding a 7s side, it is quite a feat to head to nationals.
“We achieved one of our goals for this season by qualifying for nationals,” Nicholls said, “But there’s still lots of room for these guys to improve. Regardless, they’re representing their clubs well and showing the state what the possibilities can be for our top talent.”
Kansas City went undefeated in the other pool but slipped up against Denver in the semifinals. As a result, Denver and Kansas City sit with the same number of points going into the final tournament in three weeks. The better finisher will take home the second qualifier berth.
For the NDA, the final tournament is about continuing to build continuity, getting a number of players qualified to participate at nationals, and nursing some wounds from the weekend.
“We still have some guys we need to qualify for nationals by having them play in a second qualifier tournament,” Nicholls added. “We’re tending to some injuries. So we’ll see who gets the call in the coming days.”
The final tournament of the series will be the Pioneer 7s held in Salt Lake City on July 23rd.