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It’s been a bittersweet couple of weeks for the Clemson Tigers. April 4 they upset Arkansas State to win their first-ever Penn Mutual Varsity Cup contest, but a week later they were knocked out of the competition by Navy, losing by a single point.
Sunday they finished second at the Atlantic Coast 7s Championship, but since it was to Virginia Tech, which had already secured an invitation to the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship, the Tigers take the conference’s automatic bid to Philly to compete in the nationally-televised CRC for the first time.
“I won’t lie and say we weren’t disappointed not to win it,” said Clemson coach Justin Hickey of the Atlantic Coast 7s Championship, “but it’s a pretty nice consolation to qualify for Philly.”
Clemson has been a rising program for the last few years, winning back-to-back conference titles in 15s. But the Tigers have struggled a little more in 7s.
“Haven’t had a whole lot of success in 7s in the past,” Hickey admitted. “Obviously, sort of our time and attention has been spent on 15s, but at the same time that doesn’t mean 7s isn’t important to us. Just, for whatever reason, we’ve been a little unlucky in the sport, and I think this weekend was maybe a coming out party for us.”
Some of the virtues that translate seamlessly from 7s to 15s are work ethic and fitness, which the Tigers had in spades on the weekend.
“I really reminded the guys this week we weren’t really going to become a great 7s team in a few days or in a few sessions, but the way we were going to be successful was from the work we put in starting in January in the weight room and on the training field,” Hickey added.
“Really, that was the mindset going in. We played some decent 7s, but we were going to make sure that every game we outworked our opponent, and I think that’s what made us successful, just pure fitness and determination.”
Because of wet weather all weekend, the two-day tournament was moved from a full-dimension pitch to a high school football field, and in the tighter confines, a couple of tall, rangy Tigers were able to create space by using their long arms to offload.
“Jason [Damm] and Dylan [Goulding] are both 6-3, 6-4 225 or so,” said Hickey, “and really what we did well with them is kind of getting those two guys out in kind of the 20-meter-to-the-sideline channel and getting them in open space to be able to create separation with their long arms and look for offloads. Those are the guys that really kind of started our break and got us going forward a lot of times.”
Clemson has endured a very active spring in both 15s and 7s, and the Tigers will take some time to rest and recover, as well as prepare for finals, before jumping head first into CRC preparation.