As you guys know from my ‘About Me’ page, which none of you have probably read, I am on the men’s rugby team at the University of Maryland. This summer, May 31st-June 1st, we have been invited to participate in the Collegiate Rugby Championship at PPL Park in Philadelphia, PA. The CRCs is a rugby 7s tournament that twenty college programs from all over the country participate in. It’s a huge event and a great opportunity for Terps rugby, as well as the Univeristy of Maryland, because it will be broadcasted on NBC and NBC sports. Rugby 7s is a different variation of rugby that only uses seven players on the field for each team as opposed to 15 each. The halves are only seven minutes long as opposed to forty minutes. It’s a faster paced game with bigger individual tackles and more scoring. The variation has just recently been picked up for the 2016 Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro. The CRCs was created in 2010 to promote the sport in America in anticipation of the Olympics. It is also used as a talent pool to help find players for America’s team.
This will be the second time the Terps rugby team participates in the tournament. We played in the tournament back in 2012 and did alright. Day one wasn’t exactly anything to write home about as we lost all three games to Florida(7-19), Darthmouth (7-31), and Delaware (18-34). However, we turned it around and put together a great day two performance to redeem ourselves. In our first game, we won a nail biter against Penn State 28-26 on a last second try (which is like a touchdown) by me to stay alive. I’m somewhat of hero. We then went on to smoke Oklahoma 34-12 in game 2. In that game, I got completely steamrolled by a big ol’ farm boy on national TV. A hero falls. In game 3, we lost again to Florida 20-14 and our tournament ended. We were led by senior Trevor Tanifum, an English speedster, who led the whole tournament with 10 tries. He was named to the All-Tournament team and went on to be selected to 2012 All-American 7s team. It was a great opportunity back in 2012 and we can’t wait to get back there and build on our first performance.
The team has been training hard this spring to put on an even better performance this summer. We have participated in three tournaments and have been successfully building on each performance. The first tournament was in our backyard and was composed of six teams (Kutztown, Maryland, University of Virginia (UVA), Navy, Virgina Tech (VT), & North Carolina State (NC ST)). We finished in fifth place. It was our first tournament of the year and a lot of the teams had a couple tournaments under their belts already. We were still trying to find the the right combinations of players to use as well as still working out the kinks in our game plan. The constant rain didn’t help, but hey, the other teams had to play in it too. The first tournament, although a disappointment, gave us a good base of where we were and where we knew we needed to be.
The second tournament of the year took place at Viriginia Tech. It was also composed of six teams (VT, UVA, North Carolina (UNC), Radford, UMD, & Wake Forest). In this tournament, we finished third out of the the six teams, but the tournament was, in a way, more of a disappointment than the first. Our defense was lackluster and played a roll in two close losses to UVA and VT, the two teams who played for the final. We were missing tackles that should have been made and leaving gaps all over the field for teams to run through. Our fitness wasn’t exactly where it needed to be and we were having difficulty holding on to the ball. Rugby 7s is all about possession. The games are only fourteen minutes long and it’s difficult for the other team to score, if they don’t have the ball. We’re not the biggest team in the country and we found ourselves going into contact way too much. Once in contact, we had a tendency to lose the ball in the tackle. We found ourselves playing way too much defense on the weekend and you can’t win tournaments if you’re only playing defense. We left that tournament knowing we had two big things to work on for the Atlantic Coast Rugby League 7s Tournament in Greensboro, NC. We had to lock down on our defense and focus on keeping the ball in hand.
With two weeks to prepare for Greensboro, we put in a lot of work to prepare ourselves for the two day, eight team tournament. Who would of thought, but the hard work did actually pay off. I guess our coaches, parents, and teachers aren’t just blowing smoke up our asses. On day one, we played NC State, UVA, and Clemson. We came out a little shaky and nervous for our first game against the Wolfpack. NC State is always a tough team with some big boys and hard runners. However, we managed to tire them out by stretching the field and running around them. We won 24-10. Our next game was against UVA, who had beaten us twice by small margins in the past two tournaments, and we were determined to get the victory. I noticed early that four of their best players were suited up, but standing on the sideline. If they didn’t want to play their best, we were going to make sure they regretted it. That game was the best rugby we played all year. We kept possession for almost the entire game and they crossed midfield on attack maybe once. We were winning our restarts, moving the ball from sideline to sideline and scoring when the holes opened up. The final score was 22-0. Our third and last game of the day came against the Clemson tigers. We were riding high on our defeat of UVA and played the same exact game against Clemson. We won 29-5. We finished the day 3-0 and in second place overall, behind Virgina Tech, who had scored more points on the day.
On day two, you had to play three games to win and that’s exactly what we did. We started the day off against Wake Forest and much like our first game against NC State, we came out a little shaky. After an early score by Wake Forest, we settled into the game, found our groove and pulled out the victory. The score was 29-12. That victory set us up to play recent Atlantic Coast Conference addition, Notre Dame, in the semi-final match. Notre Dame has a great team with a lot of big boys. Defense and hustle is what won this match for us. They threatened us a number of times with a lot of big runs, but we never gave in and always managed to make that one tackle before they could find the try-line. We won the game 19-7. It was a huge match for us because it showed us that we could gut it out and win the slow, physical games that big teams like to play. Offensively, we stuck to our game plan of keeping possession and staying out of a lot of contact. We moved the ball around the field to where the space was and capitalized on the defensive mistakes of Notre Dame. It was a great game and set up a rematch with UVA for the championship. UVA graciously decided to bless us with their starters’ presence in the championship match, which is two 10-minute halves. We opened the game with two quick scores and never looked back. We stuck to our game plan of just maintaining possession and striking when the gaps opened up. We hit them in the mouth from the opening kickoff and I think they were a little shocked by that. They never really got themselves back into the game. They did have a good majority of possession too, but we played great contained defense. We didn’t give up any holes in the middle and we didn’t let them run around us on the edges. We made our tackles and converted our opportunities. It was a great and well-deserved 40-7 victory. Two notable players on the weekend were MIke Messina, the blazing, fast winger, and Matt Sarna, the athletic prop, who led the team in tries with eight and seven, respectively.
We have a little less than three weeks to prepare for the CRCs in Philly. We are working hard both on the field and in the classroom. Right now we’re doing four training sessions a week with an added film session. Sessions will start to be everyday as finals come to an end. The team is looking good and we’re definitely in a better position going into this tournament now than we were two years ago.We have five players on the team who played in the 2012 tournament. That kind of experience and knowledge of what it takes to perform at this level is vital for a team. If you combine that with the new guys on the squad, all knowledgeable and athletic rugby players, we have a chance to do pretty well. We have a tough pool that includes Temple, Drexel and 2013 CRC Champions and rugby power house, University of California, Berkeley. We are definitely up for the challenge and could use the support of both the University of Maryland and local rugby community. So if you can, please buy tickets through us at this link. It’s $35 for a two day pass and $25 for just one day. If you can’t attend the actual tournament, just think of it as a friendly donation. We would really appreciate and we hope to see a lot Terps fans out in Philly this summer. Also, check your local listings to see when we play on TV.