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The West kicks back up with the second of three qualifiers at Swope Park in Kansas City, Mo. Saturday. The top 10 finishers from the Houston tournament are all scheduled to be in Kansas City, and they’ll be joined by the St. Louis Bombers and St. Louis Ramblers.
The Denver Barbarians won the first event convincingly, and they’ll be favored to do well again in Kansas City. Houston was their first tournament of any kind this summer under new coach Mark Bokhoven with plenty of new talent on the field. And their most dangerous player, Taylor Howden, has now had a couple of weeks to emerge from Bok’s dog house. He didn’t start a single game in Houston due to missing practice.
The Woodlands Exiles, with just eight players at their disposal, finished second. They had three guys in the All American camp in Houston – Chris Saint, Zac Mizell and Steyn Benade – and unavailable. They’ll be on the field for the Exiles in Kansas City.
The Houston-area team has added a couple of high profile players to the roster for KC – Arkansas State’s Danie Swanepoel and Life’s Chance Doyle. Doyle brings some girth and physicality, and Swanepoel is a very savvy wing who is not only great in attack but also in defense.
At full strength, the Exiles figure to be serious contenders in Kansas City.
Glendale was the surprise of Houston, as they managed to overcome the loss of 10 players to injury, relocation and unavailability and finish third, picking up two valuable series points.
The Raptors started slowly, tying both the Oklahoma Rugby Academy and El Azul in pool play, but rebounded with by ousting Aspen in the quarterfinals, falling by two seven to the Exiles in the semis and walloping ORA, who it had tied earlier, 40-0 for third place.
“We had a slow start with two draws, but as the day progressed, I think the boys played better,” said Glendale coach Andre Snyman. “They started playing the structure I’m trying to coach a little bit better. There was improvement game by game, so I’m confident that we’ll have a better start in Kansas City.”
The Oklahoma Rugby Academy has already won tournament in Kansas City this summer and won’t be dealing with as much wear and tear from the road, having to make a significantly shorter trip this time around.
Of the non-points scoring teams in Houston, Apsen, Fort Worth, the host Kansas City Blues, El Azul and the Kansas City Rogues are all in dire needing of banking some points in Kansas City.
No team is out of the race at the moment, but points are at a premium. The Blues and Aspen are the two most dangerous of the teams with no points. The Blues lost to the Exiles by just five in the Cup Quarters and smoked Aspen and Fort Worth in the Plate semis and final, respectively.
Aspen also looked very dangerous at times. Peceli Rinakama is the most electric player in the West, and James Aldridge is imposingly large. And keep the name Carlin Isles in mind. The former Olympic track hopeful is new to the game but blazing fast.
The qualifier bracket kicks off at 2pm CST and is accompanied by a high school tournament on Friday night and an open competition earlier on Saturday.
St. Thomas Aquinas
Shawnee Mission East
Heart of America 7's
Park Hill South
Littleton 7's (Colorado)
Blues B, C
Boone County Outlaws
KC Rogues B
NW Arkansas Gryphons
El Azul (Austin Huns)