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Pool A is intriguing if nothing else. It’s home to two teams who fancy themselves contenders to win it all, UCLA and Navy, and two teams who pretty much no one gives a shot at winning it all, St. Joe’s and Villanova.
This is the fourth CRC appearance for Navy, and the Midshipmen are looking to advance past the Cup Quarterfinals for the first time ever. They’ve reached the Cup Quarters twice and finished in the bottom eight once.
If Navy’s showing at College 7s Nationals last fall is any indication, the Midshipmen are coming into this CRC with more notches on their collective belt than ever before.
Navy finished sixth in College Station, beating the likes of Dartmouth, Cal Poly, Air Force and Texas A&M. Navy’s only losses were to Kutztown and St. Mary’s, which are two really good teams.
So don’t be surprised if Navy winds up undefeated in Philly. Oh, and the Midshipmen have probably the best player in the pool in sophomore Jack McAuliffe, a 7s High School All American.
If anyone is to knock off Navy, it will likely be UCLA. The Bruins finished third at Pac-12 7s back in the fall, losing only to eventual champ Cal. The Bruins even beat Arizona, a team considered one of the favorites to win the CRC. However, the Wildcats did not have Brett Thompson then, and he certainly changes the complexion of the entire competition.
UCLA has a great number of above average athletes with good rugby skills and 7s know-how. Several Bruins are foreign students who have been playing rugby since childhood.
But there aren’t any Brett Thompsons, Madison Hugheses or Tim Ackers on the Bruins’ roster – guys who can dominate individually. UCLA can punish other team’s mistakes, but not afford to make too many of their own.
So this pool will likely be decided by the Saturday afternoon match between UCLA and Navy, which will air live on NBC. The winner will make the Cup Quarterfinals, and the loser will hope to make the top eight. Only three teams who finish second in their pool advance to the Cup Quarters.
As for St. Joe’s and Villanova, the Hawks have to be considered the
favorite to finish third in this pool, given that they have a track record
of playing meaningful 7s and Villanova doesn’t. St. Joe’s went to the Las
Vegas Invitational in February and had a decent showing, losing to Texas by
just two and beating Penn by the same margin. St. Joe's attended the LVI
the year before, too.
The Hawks boast a lineup with several players from top high school programs, like Xavier (NY) and Gonzaga (DC), but they’ve routinely underperformed in 15s in recent years. The point is, St. Joe’s has the talent to upset UCLA or Navy, sure, but shouldn’t be expected to do so.
Villanova? Well, they’re the last'-minute replacement. There are zero expectations for the Wildcats, and for pretty good reason. The last time Villanova played Temple (which has not won a single CRC match in two years of trying) in 15s, the Owls piled up over 100 points on ‘Nova.
The upside is that a team from Philadelphia will finally win a CRC game in this pool, barring a tie between the Hawks and Wildcats.
Ruggamatrix America's picks