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Pool E features South Carolina, Michigan, Wisconsin and UCLA. This group is incredibly balanced any one of the four teams could win the group.
The Bruins are looking to return to form after a disappointing finish last year. After winning their first game handily in 2015, the Bruins were hit with the injury bug. UCLA lost to Michigan and Arkansas State and missed out on the cup rounds after two consecutive years of reaching the semifinals. UCLA is aware that getting back to that stage will require a strong effort in a tough group.
“It is going to be competitive. We are looking at everything one play at a time on the way into this thing and hopefully we can be successful out there,” said UCLA coach Scott Stewart. “We all came away pretty disappointed last year…We are motivated to try the best we can and get as far as we can.”
The Bruins are coming back with a wealth of experience. Zach Bonte and Pierre Courpron lead the way up front while Niall Barry and Seb Sharpe power the backline. Along with some new faces, UCLA is looking to make a deep run in the tournament.
“I think it will a be more balanced attack than it has been in the past. We are just looking forward to it and the guys just can’t wait to be playing,” Stewart added.
The other three teams in the group are fairly familiar with each other. Michigan and Wisconsin face off against each other in the Big 10 every year, and Wisconsin traveled to South Carolina for a round robin tournament earlier this year.
The Badgers earned their way into the tournament by winning the Big 10 qualifier. Wisconsin has not been to the CRC since 2013, where they lost in the plate semis to Delaware. The year prior, the Badgers reached the cup quarterfinals.
Wisconsin won two of the three tournaments in the Big 10 7s series and knocked off fellow group member in the final of the qualifier. The Wolverines are no easy win, either, as Michigan reached the cup quarters last year before getting bounced by Cal.
After playing Wisconsin, to a number of close matches this spring, South Carolina is confident that they can makes waves in this group and that all the matches will be close.
“All the games were within one try each,” USC 7s coach Steve Darnell said of the spring games with Wisconsin. “Wisconsin had their way with Michigan in the conference tournament… so I feel comfortable we will be very competitive with those two. I know UCLA can really hurt you….They look good, they have pace…. And we really think that this going to be a tough match.”
The Gamecocks come in tested and with plenty of depth for the competition. South Carolina is the only team in the CRC field that competed in the USA rugby 7s nationals this past weekend. Playing a predominantly freshman and sophomore side, while resting a majority of the CRC roster for this week, the Gamecocks gained valuable experience for a number of players being asked to come off the bench this weekend.
“The whole reason for doing that was to get some playing time for those freshman that will be the reserves in Philadelphia,” Darnell indicated.
SCRC player of the year Brian Keown leads the way for USC. Thomas Coar is the leading scorer on the team and Dana Corcoran leads from up front. Sean Barnes who will be playing both center and prop will also be a player to watch.
This group has no clear favorite coming into the CRC and it will be exciting to see who comes out on top this weekend.