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The Serevi Selects defeated the Northeast Olympic Development Academy, 14-7, Saturday in Sam Boyd Stadium in front of upwards of 30,000 fans to win the Men’s Elite bracket of the Las Vegas Invitational for the third-straight year.
The Selects never trailed in the game and were up, 14-0, with just about a minute to play before surrendering a try to make it interesting. It was a heavyweight bout from the opening whistle, as both teams traded jabs until the fifth minute, when Tomasi Cama crossed for the Selects.
Cama was one of many HSBC World Series veterans featured in the game. While the Northeast had Pono Haitsuka and Nate Augspurger, two recently capped Eagles, the Selects were fielding 7s royalty. Cama, an All Black and Series champion many times over, is second on the circuit’s all-time points list. Forrmer England star Ben Gollings, who also laced up for Serevi, is first.
On his opening try, Cama threw in a lineout ball deep in his own end, caught it from his lifted teammate and spun it to the midfield. Former Eagle Mike Palefau made a line break, and Cama was there in support once the final defender was fixed.
Northeast held possession much of the rest of the first half, but couldn’t muster a serious threat, so Serevi maintained the 7-0 lead through intermission.
The gap was widened a couple of minutes into the second half when Alipate Tuilevuka bowled his way into the corner of the try zone. With seemingly about eight inches and 100 pounds on his opposite, Marcus Henderson, Tuilevuka went into contact and managed to rumble through three sets of ODA arms for the try.
“That’s the biggest reason why I came to the team, because they wanted me to do that – just be big, run hard, and that’s basically what I did. I saw the small guy, so I called for it and just kept moving my legs.”
Northeast ODA’s previously stagnant offense managed possession in the attacking end and a numbers advantage, but a knock-on ended its most dangerous probe of the game. Part of the issue for the ODA was indiscipline. Numerous times Nate Brakeley was called for infringing at the breakdown, and the lack of ball and surplus of Serevi momentum punished the Northeast.
The ODA finally got on the board in the final minute. Michael St. Clair tested Rocco Mauer’s speed on the wing, and the former Eagle won, bundling St. Clair into touch. However, Serevi’s lineout throw was long, and the Northeast took possession. Augspurger went weak off a ruck and sniped in under the posts shortly thereafter.
With about 45 seconds left on the clock following the successful conversion, there would be another restart. The Northeast took a quick, line-drive kickoff, and the gamble didn’t pay off, as Cama fielded the ball and Serevi was able to maintain possession until the final whistle.
The Selects were the more experienced team, mixing aging international superstars with those still trying to find their way into the USA player pool. For both subsets, the win was gratifying.
“We’re all at different stages in our career, and so the competitive juice is still flowing, so for us it doesn’t matter what it is – we’ll keep going, keep playing. We love the game.”