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To say Oklahoma had a rough 15s season would
be putting it lightly. The Sooners went 1-7, finished at the bottom of the
Mid-South Conference and were torched 137-0 by Life.
However, with Jon Velie coming back into the fold as 7s coach, and with more emphasis on 7s, the Sooners are hitting their stride just in time for the Collegiate Rugby Championship.
Oklahoma has collected three-straight tournament wins in as many weeks, winning events in Austin, Dallas and Charleston, SC. With the likes of Texas A&M, Texas and Charlotte RFC playing in those tournaments, the Sooners have seen some stiff competition, and overcome it.
“My challenge when I got in was how do we take good athletes and teach them how to win, teach them that losing’s not acceptable,” Velie told RUGBYMag, “so really proud of the guys to break off three tournament wins.”
Velie was complimentary of the work 15s coach Kenneth Forehand has done with the club. Velie said that during his first stint as a coach for OU, the Sooners had six coaches and that lately Forehand’s been on his own. Nonetheless, they needed to learn how to play the abbreviated game, and in a hurry.
“I think they’re in a good place right now. They’re a young team, they’re good athletes, they’re dedicated and they’ve done everything we’ve asked of them,” said Velie. “I think they’re a different team than they were in the fall. They’re hungry for knowledge and rugby IQ, and everything we’ve taught him they’ve eaten up.”
In addition to rugby knowledge, OU has chewed up a lot of pavement, traveling from Norman, Okla. to South Carolina to New York to Philadelphia over the last week or so. After South Carolina the Sooners visited New York City.
The players took in the sights for a couple of days, saw a Mets game and then ended their time in the Big Apple with a busy day.
“We jogged through Central Park, played rugby in the Sheep’s Meadow until they kicked us out. Went to the Bronx to the Urban Academy of the Bronx for Writers and Artists. The Play Rugby USA guys are involved with them, and the Premiership was coaching a clinic,” said Velie.
“After the Premiership left we played who’s next, kind of like street style 7s, like you do basketball. So we rotated teams in and out and had a great time with the kids. I think all of those kids are coming down (to the CRC). Then we took the subway to Harlem, scrimmaged Old Blue, had a good showing there, got in our cars and then drove to Philadelphia.”
The Sooners struggled against Old Blue, a well-decorated 7s club, at first, but adjusted and ended the day on a positive note, holding Old Blue scoreless in the last period of play.
“Our guys hadn’t seen that pace,” said Velie. “We improved over the day. It was good to see the guys shocked by how 7s could be played and then move to that. I was happy with seeing our guys under that pressure, seeing our guys have to respond to that. It was a great exercise.”
Oklahoma escaped the gauntlet of three tournaments in three weeks and numerous training sessions and scrimmages relatively injury free until they reached Philadelphia. In a non-contact session, prop Joe Bach tore his Achilles. Bach was one of OU’s most seasoned 7s players, having played with the Denver Barbarians last summer on the West qualifier circuit.
“We’re about pattern, so I think we’ll be OK as a team, but I really feel sorry for Joe,” said Velie. “He’s put in a lot of work, and it’s his second time back here and it’s a sad thing for a player not to have this opportunity.”
It’ll be harder without Bach, but the Sooners have confidence now, and could be poised to turn a few heads in Philadelphia. They’re targeting their first pool match against Arizona and Peter Tiberio to do just that.