CLUB RUGBY SATURDAY 6-PACK 3-3-18

This weekend the Club 6-Pack takes a dive into the world of 7s, as many of the best teams in the country head down to Las Vegas to participate in the Las Vegas Invitational (LVI) tournament. It also highlights some of the important games that are taking place throughout the 15s landscape.

Las Vegas Invitational (LVI) Women's Elite Bracket: 

This weekend's feature is the women's elite bracket in the Las Vegas Invitational Tournament (LVI). The bracket features teams from across the country, several academies, and an international team. Within the bracket there are several of the top performing teams from last year's Club 7s National Championship, including 4th-placed Scion (who were also the 2016 National Champions), and the 7th-placed Chicago Lions.

For many of the clubs this tournament plays an integral part in their preparations for the Summer 7s Series. Chicago Lions Head Coach Jeremy Nash elaborated on what the tournament means to his squad, "We have not had much opportunity in the past few years to play outside our territory, so simply competing against new competition allows us to see where we need a lot of improvement and where we are strong but want to get stronger." The LVI provides more than just a measuring stick for these teams, as the significant travel time and the atmosphere around the event can help forge a strong team culture. Nash identifies it as one of the keys to making this weekend a success, "(Our) Last key is how well we can gel both on and off the field, and not only have a great time playing but also spending time together." The Lions have made four appearances in the women's Club 7s championship in its seven years of existence, including a Plate Championship (5th place) at the Seattle final in 2014.

For the Northeast Academy, a team made up from club teams in Boston, Buffalo, and New York, this tournament serves as a different purpose. "This tournament is the best window for players to be seen by national team coaches and Emilie (Bydwell)", according to Northeast Academy founder Stephen Lewis. For players to be noticed by these high-level scouts, they will have to perform at their best, and this provides a unique challenge for the Women's Head Coach, Ryszard Chadwick, who has only been able to have one combined session with his players before they departed for Las Vegas. Preparation in the lead up and a solid training structure this week will be enough, they hope, to ensure that they can knock off their competition and remain atop of the perch. Regardless, the experience that these athletes gain from being in a high-performance setting will be valuable information that they can return to their club teams, as they gear for their own run at the 7s national crown. Teams from the Northeast have appeared in the top 5 of the Club 7s National Championship three times in the past 5 years, including two runner-up finishes by Old Blue (2014, 2016) and a Plate Championship (5th place) by the New York Rugby Club in 2017. The WPL's Beantown (with Club 7s appearances in 2013 & 2017) is also in the Northeast's catchment area, as is Boston Rugby (who appeared at Club 7s in 2015 & 2016).

The women's bracket is wide open, and it should provide for an entertaining spectacle.

Las Vegas Invitational (LVI) America's Cup:

The America's Cup, formerly Men's Elite Bracket, will feature some of the best club teams in the country, some academies, as well as some developmental sides from various international unions. One of the sides featured in the top flight is the Denver Selects, a team made up of the best players from various Denver teams and the wider Frontier region. The selects will be fancying their chances as they will have a large contingent of Denver Barbarians on their squad. Last year, the Barbarians were one point shy of claiming the 7s National Championship, and the club has also set many Club 7s records, including most appearances (23), most medals (13; 8 silver, 5 bronze), and most matches won at the finals event (83). The Denver Selects have also traditionally pulled from other 7s powers such as the Kansas City Blues (2016 Club 7s runner-up; 12 Club 7s appearances overall) and the area's rich college scene, where it found Ke'von Williams from New Mexico Highlands in 2014.

Also appearing in the America's Cup bracket is the Chicago Lions' men's program, another Club 7s stalwart. The Lions have made 15 appearances at the Club 7s final, including 11 consecutive appearances between 2007 and 2017, and were the National Champions in 2007. The Lions have also won 45 matches at the Club 7s event, good for 7th-best all-time.

Other Club 7s players will be lining up for the Northeast Academy, which draws from a region encompassing Club 7s powers such as Old Blue of New York (15 championship event appearances, including 2 national championships in 2005 and 1993), Bulldog Rugby (6th place at the 2017 Club 7s final), Mystic River Rugby (2015 bronze medalist), and New York Athletic (11 finals appearances; 10th-most all-time).

Las Vegas Invitational (LVI) Men's Aces:

The Men's aces bracket is one of the largest brackets in the tournament this weekend. It also boasts some of the international flair that the America's Cup does, with teams from Canada and Nigeria competing. There are three teams representing the United States military branches, with representatives coming from the US Army, US Nay, and US Air Force. It also contains some of the biggest clubs and academies in the country with teams such as Mystic River Rugby and the Landshark Academy all taking part in this weekend's festivities. With a bracket of twenty teams, and many of the teams being an unknown entity, it will be a tightly contested bracket and one that will produce quality rugby.

Florida Men's Division II: Miami Tridents vs. Boca Raton Buccaneers:

In this matchup we see the leaders of the Florida Men's Division II South 1&2 conferences go toe to toe. The Tridents are currently sitting on a record of 4-1 and with 21 league points. Boca Raton is sitting in an almost identical position of 3-1 on 17 points, the one game difference being all that separates the two teams. Both teams will be coming into this weekend after suffering their sole loss of the season last weekend. For the Tridents to walk away with the win they will need to shut down Tristen Gray, the fly half for the Buccaneers who has accounted for nearly one third of the team's total points, and is also their leading try scorer. For Boca Raton to win they will need to tighten their defensive screws and lock down the middle of the pitch, as the Tridents' centers have scored 8 tries this season.

Mid-America Senior Men's Division II: St. Louis Royals vs. Omaha Goats:

St. Louis is enjoying their first season in Division II, after winning the Division III national title last year. So far, the Royals have had a perfect start to their season, starting off 2-0. The Omaha Goats, on the other hand have had a see-sawing start to their season, holding a record of 1-2. For the Royals, they will be counting on Rory Cunningham, their outside center. Cunningham, has been an absolute force this year, has crossed the white line 5 times in his two games. The Goats will have their hands full trying to keep him under wraps.

Georgia Senior Men's Division III: Atlanta Renegades D3 vs. High Country Rugby:

Out in the Peach State, two clubs will play each other, looking to keep their seasons alive. The Renegades' D3 side and High Country are both sitting on records of 4-1, with only one competition point separating them. While they are sitting 5th and 4th spot respectively they both have a couple of games up their sleeves, and the winner of this match will be in a good spot to push for a strong late-season run. For the Renegades to win they will need to look to their backline for inspiration. Their backs have been potent in attack, with many of the players scoring multiple times already this season. For High Country, they will be looking for a strong defensive showing. They started their season off by allowing 10 points in their first two games; in the three games since they have let in more than 21 points on each occasion.