Thursday, June 16, 2016

Seeing Past Cin City to the Sevens Series

Last week, the Midwest sevens qualifier series kicked off in Cincinnati, Ohio with the Cin City Sevens tournament. With the first competition in the books, the predictions on how the season will turn out can begin.

Though there were some organizational issues with participating clubs at last weekend’s event, the tournament committee, the Midwest Sevens Men’s Coordinator and the Midwest Rugby Referee Society put together to draw, scheduled and delivered a well-organized event. The tournament ended up having nine teams in the qualifier bracket on the men’s side – two teams from Cleveland, 1823 and Cincinnati, along with Louisville, Dayton and Grand Rapids. On the women’s qualifying side there were two sides from 1823 and Cincinnati, the Pittsburgh Highlanders and Oakland.


At the end of the day, two of the Ohio clubs took center stage. Cleveland and 1823 took four of the top five spots, with Cincinnati’s first side taking third place on the men’s side. Cleveland’s clubs got second and fourth place, respectively, while the two sides from 1823 took first and fifth. The first sides from 1823 and Cincinnati too first and second place, respectively, for the women.

“Without a doubt, 1823 A was the class squad of the day. They have reloaded after losing some players to Pro Rugby,” said Al Lucas, tournament director of the Cin City Sevens tournament. “They were fit, executed well and played with passion. They finished the day undefeated and with the Cup Championship. The Cleveland Crusaders’ A squad upset the Cincinnati A side in their first match of the morning, which set the table for their run to the Tournament Final. They played an exciting style of sevens and will be a team to watch this Summer. They showed a complimentary mix of physicality and athleticism.”

After an initial loss, Cincinnati’s first side regrouped and performed well on the team’s home soil. Overall, the Wolfhounds put in 28 tries throughout the tournament, second only to the 29 put in by the A side from 1823. Unfortunately, that early loss made it so the home team couldn’t get higher than third place.

This final breakdown on the men’s scene was no surprise to anyone familiar with the Midwest sevens series. Cleveland, 1823 and Cincinnati were the top finishers from the East region of the Midwest last year. The matches these teams produced on the way to the weekend’s final result produced some of the most inspired play of the day.
 
“Cleveland A was involved in two of the most competitive and exciting matches,” Lucas said. “First up in the morning, they beat Cincinnati A in a game determined by conversions, by a score of 21-17. They scored the go-ahead game-winner late in the match. In the Cup Playoff Round, they squared off with their own Cleveland B. That match ended in a three-point win by the A-side. Also in pool play, a stubborn Dayton club finally succumbed to 1823 B in a very physical match 17-10.”

Going forward, it would be easy to make the men’s series a three-way race, but the new teams on the scene could easily threaten the established clubs as the summer goes on. According to Lucas, Dayton was able to hang with the established teams and make a competition of each match. Dayton fell to Cleveland’s second side by 14 points and 12 to Cincinnati’s first side. Louisville was hot-and-cold throughout the day. Louisville was able to put up points against Grand Rapids, Cleveland B and Dayton but got shut out by Cincinnati B.

While the results of Cin City Sevens looks like more of the same from years past, change has been infused into this year’s series and the expectation is that structural change will mix up the entire scene. The Midwest was divided into East and West regions in order to decrease travel and give more teams an opportunity to make a run at Nationals.

“In the past, the Series became a battle of attrition based on players’ availability, distance and cost of travel and competitiveness,” Lucas said. “The East-West set-up is encouraging Clubs who once participated in, or hosted, Qualifiers to return to playing at the highest level of sevens. For the last three years, the same four clubs from the East and the same four clubs from the West have all finished in the Top Eight. This year, there might be a surprise or two.”


The next East Region tournament in the series is the Rock n Roll Sevens tournament, set to take place in Mentor, Ohio on July 9. In the meantime, there will be two opening tournaments in the West region and a non-qualifier tournament in Pittsburgh on June 18.

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