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It was a busy weekend in the South as three National Qualifier tournaments were conducted in Florida, Georgia, and the True South. A total of 21 teams competed with Miami shutting out Naples to win the Invasion 7s, the Atlanta Old White blasting the Legion Rugby Club for the Hotlanta 7s title, and Nashville edging out New Orleans to capture the Tennessee 7s crown.
Tampa Krewe’s second annual Invasion 7s featured the largest field of the weekend in Lakewood Ranch, Fla. with 12 teams broken into four pools. Eight teams reached the playoffs with Miami, Treasure Coast, Naples, and Orlando advancing to the semifinals. The final was a rematch of the Fiji 7s’ championship and Miami proved once again that it is the best team in Florida with a 26-0 shutout of Naples.
After yielding two tries in its first match against the University of South Florida, Miami ripped off four straight shutouts dominating the competition with a total of 186 points in five games.
Defense was paramount on Saturday for Miami. “We are good speed-wise, so we knew teams wouldn’t be able to match us to the pace of the game,” Miami 7s coach Ronnie Suarez said. “Therefore, we really just worked our defense. We have some really good tacklers and we worked on our defensive shape for the last two weeks where we could shut teams down.”
In the final versus Naples, Miami controlled territory early, while Naples handled the pressure with tough defense on their own line. Miami’s ball control offense proved too much for Naples over the course of the game making scoring opportunities few and far between.
“Naples is a really strong team at the breakdown and we knew that if we were going to have any chance at beating them, it would have to be winning the breakdown,” Suarez remarked. “Once we got a flow going where we were able to get into contact, win the breakdown as fast as possible, and get the ball out, we knew we had them beat.”
In the 16th rendition of the Hotlanta 7s in Atlanta, Ga., the Men’s Qualifier only consisted of hosts, the Atlanta Old White, the Legion Rugby Club, and Charlotte. In the round robin, Atlanta beat Legion, 19-10, and Charlotte, 26-5, and then Legion bested Charlotte, 17-10. With the Old White receiving a bye to the final, Legion scratched by Charlotte, 21-19. In the final, Atlanta put an exclamation point on its performance with a 44-0 shutout of the Legion.
“The Hotlanta 7s tournament is the highlight of the summer for us,” Atlanta captain Jamie Gasparella said. “It provides the unique opportunity for the entire Atlanta Old White club to play in the same tournament, whether social or elite. In terms of the qualifier, it serves as the final tune-up before South Championships. This gives us a chance for all players in our selection pool to play and continue to build trust with one another.”
“We have squared off against Legion Rugby Club several times this summer and congratulate them on qualifying for South Championships,” Gasparella added. “In the final, we won the possession game and were quick to take advantage of overlaps on offense by sharing the ball well.”
The third leg of the True South 7s series kicked off in Knoxville, Tenn. with the 40th annual Tennessee 7s on Saturday. The final saw Nashville come back to beat New Orleans, 28-26, in a tightly contested match. Even though it lost the final, New Orleans was awarded the points for the tournament because Nashville decided not to qualify for the South Championships.
Six clubs participated in the Men’s Qualifier with Knoxville, Bowling Green, and New Orleans in Pool A and Nashville, Ticks, and Oklahoma City in Pool B. New Orleans emerged from pool play undefeated scoring 120 points and only giving a single try to Nashville in the first game. Oklahoma City and Nashville finished the opening rounds with 2-1 records and Knoxville advanced with the next best mark.
In the playoffs, New Orleans smashed Knoxville, 40-5, and Nashville battled back to narrowly beat Oklahoma City, 21-19. In the final, New Orleans led for most of the match, but Nashville came back once again to claim victory, 28-26.
The South Summer 7s Series concludes next weekend with the True South’s Music City 7s in Nashville, Tenn. before the South 7s Championship begin on July 23rd.