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In 2010, the first year of the College Rugby Championship (CRC) held in the Columbus Crew MLS stadium, there were few people in the stands to watch the inaugural event. By 2014, the fifth tournament, Saturday's crowd at PPL Park, Chester, Pa., reached almost 10,000, a positive outcome for the hosts, United World Sports LLC.
In addition to this significant increase in attendance, another welcome change for rugby in the United States, has been the dynamic and visible improvement in sevens play, particularly, at the college level. A handful of the 16 teams in Columbus had ever contested sevens, the novice performances glaringly evident on the NBC broadcast.
The second year in 2011 produced a surprise result when well-drilled Dartmouth won the championship with a 12-man squad, playing at a skill level that resembled experienced national sides. Other invited colleges took notice of the Big Green's cohesiveness, and the fact that the coach, Eagle Alex Magleby, was a knowledgeable seven’s specialist.
By the third year of the CRC, the play of the teams improved dramatically from the scheduling of more sevens events annually, and the increase in training and strategy. When Dartmouth won for the second year, it reinforced the notion that a special sevens program, guided by a coach proficient in the game, could achieve a high CRC standing.
Cal won the CRC in 2013 and repeated in 2014, both years demonstrating a clean passing, team-play mentality. But this year, all of the other invitees confirmed that they had started or continued programs dedicated to the faster, open game.
A few observations from this year's tournament:
Conversions: An improvement in two-point scoring, especially, on the long, steep angles. Many more kickers cleared the goal posts or came close, a noticeable difference from earlier years. Practice making perfect.
The restart: A downturn in the start of play, the kicks either not finding 10 meters, going out of bounds, or being kicked backwards. These poor beginnings handed the ball over at midfield and offered the opposition scoring possibilities. More practice needed.
Passing: The one area where all the teams showed marked progress. These spin laterals were crisp, on the mark, and some almost 20 meters for all sides.
Final note: CRC 2014 generated many more competitive games from a greater number of entrants. Not only did the big four sevens colleges (Cal, Life, Kutztown, Dartmouth) play spirited games, but also witnessed UCLA, Maryland, Michigan, and Notre Dame on the rise. The CRC anticipates that 2015 will showcase the highest performance standards of college sevens.