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Eight teams are set to compete in the Californis Collegiate 7s this weekend at St. Mary’s College in Moraga.
This is the latest in the series of qualification tournaments for the new USA Rugby National Championships, and this one holds the promise of some highly competitive matches.
In Pool A, hosts St. Mary’s take on UC Davis, Santa Clara University and Loyola Marymount.
St. Mary’s won the Cal Poly 7s in San Luis Obispo, and did so impressively, edging Cal Poly in a close final match. While the Gaels have encountered some injuries from that tournament, they still bring back some top talent. Garrett Brewer, Bubba Jones, Chad Clark and Mike Haley are all expected to play.
“It's a tough pool,” said St. Mary’s 7s Coach Mark Bass. “The teams are strong and anything can happen in these short periods of play.”
Loyola was also at the Cal Poly tournament. They struggled to win a game, but were competitive in all, and certainly have learned something along the way.
Davis also played in Cal Poly, and led by Garrett Webb and Eric Swiegert, won the Plate after beating Cal Poyl’s 2nds, Sierra College and Long Beach State. They were shut out, however, by UCLA in pool play.
Pool A may be a tough pool, but Pool B seems tougher. University of San Diego can put out a tough side, but they will struggle against Cal, Cal Poly, and San Diego State.
Cal Head Coach Jack Clark has spent years crafting a development and play preparation strategy that concentrates on strength and conditioning in the fall and games in the spring. Clark told RUGBYMag.com last week that he has had to make some adjustments to some players’ preparation this fall, but only the select few who will be playing 7s.
It’s an adjustment, he said, but not a drastic one.
"We acknowledge the difficulty of contesting championships in both forms of the game, but we want the challenge," Clark added in a statement this week. "With the right approach I believe we can be nationally competitive in both sevens in the fall and 15s in the spring. There is really no other choice with so many of our players, now and in the future, wanting to live the Olympic dream."
Cal isn’t invincible. They certainly have to be among the favorites, but without warmup tournaments they could come in gold and be upset. Cal Poly is placed well to sneak up on them. The Mustangs lost their own tournament to St. Mary’s by a hair, and under new Head Coach David Burnett hope to bring their physical, blitzing style to 7s.
And then there’s San Diego State, which was a top four team in the USA 7s CRC in 2010. They’ve graduated a couple of key players since then, but have USA 7s team captain Matt Hawkins as coach.
“We still have a lot to learn about sevens,” said Hawkins. “We have a great mix of youth and experience. I am just really looking to this weekend at an opportunity for some of the guys to step up as leaders and see how they mould together as a team. These guys will all form the core for the 15s season just around the corner and this could be a great opportunity for all of them to buy in and get things figured out early.”
California 7s Pools:
Pool A: St. Mary's; UC Davis; Santa Clara; Loyola Marymount
Pool B: University of San Diego; University of California - Berkeley; Cal Poly; San Diego State