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As expected, Seattle-Old Puget Sound Beach went undefeated in pool play Saturday at Founder’s Field in Pittsburgh, Pa., and they did so with an impressive point differential. However, the task wasn’t completed without a few hiccups, as Middlesex led the tournament favorites 14-12 at halftime and were tied with WE Rugby at intermission.
Beach eventually shook off the Savages to win 31-14 and separated from WE for a 35-19 victory. And in their first game, they walloped NOVA 42-0. Nonetheless, Seattle knows its best rugby wasn’t on display Saturday.
“At times we came in lackadaisical and it showed. We were down a couple of times, but we always knew we had the attack and the defense to score and to defend well, so it was just a matter of switching on and executing,” said Seattle’s Miles Craigwell.
“Tomorrow we can’t do that, though. We have to come out strong, come out hard and just follow the game plan and hopefully win every game and showcase our skills, showcase the hard work we’ve put forth all season.”
Beach was in this same spot last year – undefeated after pool play and liked by most observers to win the tournament. But they were ousted in the semifinals by Chicago. That memory has lived with the team since.
“It’s on the back of our mind, what it feels like to train all summer and go in as a strong team and then mess up on a couple of plays and a couple of possessions and lose in the semis and be out of the running,” said Craigwell. “And we use that as motivation every game and just use it as fire to do well, execute and play as one.”
Seattle sometimes played defense for too long Saturday, but on at least a few occasions, Craigwell would get tied up in a defensive maul, buried by a few bodies, and come out with the ball.
“When it’s a maul, it’s all fair game. May the strongest man win,” said Craigwell. “If we have possession, we feel like we can control the game on offense. Defense is the worst in 7s – there’s a lot of running, a lot of hitting, and if you starve the other team of possession they get tired and then holes start to open up and become bigger and bigger, so that’s the game plan, just keep the ball and let our magic run.”
By magic, Craigwell could mean Emosi Vucago, Maka Unufe, Mike Palefau and Shane Moore. Those four guys gave Seattle an unparalleled layer of speed and danger Saturday.
While Beach did as expected on Day One, you could argue Middlesex and WE Rugby didn’t. The former, also underdogs in 2011, started the day by beating a shorthanded WE squad 19-12. With the game tied 12-12 in the final minute, Middlesex’s Nick Vettese scored a game-winning try to secure one of the day’s few upsets.
Middlesex backed up that performance by pushing Seattle in the second round and beating NOVA 28-12 in its final game of the day. The Savages were relentless in defense and attack, with constant go-forward being the key to success.
On the flip side, WE started the day with a whimper and struggled to compete. Because of travel complications, WE played the first game with just one sub and a few starters not yet at the pitch. But then with their full assault of weapons, they dropped a shocking loss to NOVA, 24-19. WE just seemed to lack any semblance of cohesion until running up against Seattle after being eliminated from Cup contention.
Middlesex is paired up with Northeast foe Old Blue in its quarterfinal, and Seattle squares off against SFGG.