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The Men’s Elite 7s at the Las Vegas Invitational has become one of the highlights of the American Rugby Sevens calendar.
This year, 23 teams from around the USA and the world compete in a bracket that is below the level of the major internationals, but not far below.
Each of the six pools has four teams playing in a round-robin format, except for Pool B, which has three teams.
Heading up that competitive Pool B is the Northeast Olympic Development Academy. Players such as Nate Augspurger, Derek Lipscomb, Sean Rafferty, Jon Kokinda, and Jared Collinson lead an all-Northeast program that will field two squads in the Elite Division. Watch out also for former High School All Americans' Christian Adams. NE ODA faces a Mana Utah Selects team that is expected to be solid, and an Armed Forces team with high aspirations.
Pool A features Lionheart 7s, a touring side out of Edmonton, the Chilean national team, Azul y Negro out of Texas, and Hawaii’s Kalihi Raiders. It’s a team featuring skilled, experienced players, and teams of raw athleticism. Lionheart is probably the most polished team, but Chile could win the entire tournament.
In Pool C, Atlantis brings some national team aspirants from mostly the Mid-Atlantic region, but further afield as well. Atlantis is combining exceptional college talent with men’s players and raw athletes under the guiding hand of 7s guru Emil Signes. They take on the New Orleans Royale Selects, headed up by all-South-everything Jeff Reuther, the Peruvian national team, and cOUScOUs, which is essentially the Bahama national team. Speed and elusiveness against power and game plan.
Pool D you know has to be competitive when two national teams are perhaps the underdogs. Cayman Isles has speed, and Belgium has some international experience. But the Canadian development team, the Maple Leafs, while young, is enormously strong, and Zoo Sports Ronin is a semi-pro touring side out of England, and should be very solid.
Pool E features the defending champion Serevi Selects. With players such as Mike Palefau, Emosi Vucago, and Ben Gollings expected to play, they will be strong again – speedy, skilled, and experienced. The Northeast ODA 2 team is here, along with Trinidad & Tobago – another Caribbean team with tons of pace – and 1823 out of Columbus, Ohio. The 1823 team, part of the Tiger Rugby network, will be full of players hoping to push for a place on the US national team.
And then Pool F will include the USA Falcons, featuring players from the USA camp who didn’t make the full Eagles, like Pat Blair, Mike Ziegler, Madison Hughes, Eric Deuchle and more. They mix with the Mexican national team, which gets better and better and has been coming to the Las Vegas Invitational since it was the San Diego Invitational, the Chicago Lions, simply a club but a talented and well-stocked club, and The Selects.
The Selects is a team of current and former military players, along with some other recruits, under the coaching eye of former US Air Force Academy All Americans Josh Dean and Mike Hobson, with former Eagle Vaha Esikia also working with them. The Selects program, with four sides entered, has been in camp in Las Vegas since Sunday as players from across the country, and globe, get to know each other and the coaching staff. Watch out for Dennis Savello, who is a raw talent, but a good one, as well as USA Rugby South standout Ty Elkins and a trio of German national team players.
Right now the favorites in each pool look to be:
Chile, Northeast ODA, Atlantis, Maple Leafs, Serevi, USA Falcons
Look for Zoo Sports Ronin to push the Maple Leafs, and possibly beat them, and The Selects, New Orleans, Lionheart, Kalihi, and Armed Forces are all to be reckoned with.
Check RUGBYMag.com's YouTube Channel for video footage of many of the Men's Elite Day One Games.
Las Vegas Invitational Men's Elite 7s Pools and Day One Schedule
Kalihi Raiders Rugby Club
New Orleans Royale Selects
Northeast ODA 2 (also listed as New York City 7s)
Trinidad & Tobago
Mana Utah Selects
US Armed Forces
Zoo Sports Ronin
Schedule for Friday, Jan 24 (All games at Star Nursery fields)
800 ME7 B2 v US Armed Forces
820 ME7 NE ODA v Mana Utah Selects
840 ME7 Atlantis v Peru
900 ME7 N.O. Royale Selects v cOUScOUS
920 ME7 Lionheart v Azul
940 ME7 Chile v Kalihi Raiders
1000 ME7 Zoo Sports Ronin v Cayman Is
1020 ME7 Maple Leafs v Belgium
1040 ME7 NE ODA v US Armed Forces
1100 ME7 B2 v Mana Utah Selects
1120 ME7 Atlantis v cOUScOUS
1140 ME7 N.O. Royale Selects v Peru
1200 ME7 Lionheart v Kalihi Raiders
1220 ME7 Chile v Azul
1240 ME7 Zoo Sports Ronin v Belgium
100 ME7 Maple Leafs v Cayman Islands
120 ME7 Northeast ODA v B2
140 ME7 Mana UT Sel v US Armed Forces
200 ME7 Atlantis v N.O. Royale Selects
220 ME7 Peru v cOUScOUS
240 ME7 Lionheart v Chile
300 ME7 Azul v Kalihi Raiders
320 ME7 Zoo Sports Ronin v Maple Leafs
340 ME7 Cayman Islands v Belgium
800 ME7 Serevi Selects v 1823
820 ME7 NYC 7s v Trinidad & Tobago
840 ME7 US Falcons v Mexico
900 ME7 Chicago Lions v The Selects
1040 ME7 Serevi Sel v Trinidad & Tobago
1100 ME7 NYC 7s v 1823
1120 ME7 US Falcons v The Selects
1140 ME7 Chicago Lions v Mexico
1200 MC15 Kalihi Raiders v AZ Select
140 ME7 Serevi Selects v NYC 7s
200 ME7 1823 v Trinidad & Tobago
220 ME7 US Falcons v Chicago Lions
240 ME7 Mexico v The Selects