Back To Back
Drained. Ecstatic. Awed. Befuddled. Joyful. All of these emotions and more were present at this year’s installment of the USA 7s in Las Vegas. The USA came in tied for #1 with New Zealand by being the most consistent team on the circuit. Not the best, just the most consistent. They had made it to 4 successive finals losing all of them, so that #1 was a bit bittersweet. Not that I was complaining – regular readers will know that I celebrated that #1 slot every week that it was maintained – but there was something a bit off-putting about getting to every final but then falling short. What we needed was a win and a tournament on home soil seemed the ideal place to do it. Well, the boys delivered and now we can claim to be #1 with no reservations. Yes, we stumbled a bit on Day 1 losing to Argentina but we got a little help from Kenya on Day 2 when they overturned the Pumas setting up a win-and-you’re-in game against France, and win we did. That set up a quarterfinal against South Africa, a team that delights in beating us in knock out games. I was a bit worried but it was soon apparent our team was not. The result was total domination of a team that used to own us.
There are no easy games at this point and in that fine tradition we had the mighty Kiwis in the semis. New Zealand was the team that we were tied with on points and with the other contenders already out of the tournament (the other semi was Argentina and Samoa) the winner of this match would take sole possession of first place no matter what happened after. The All Blacks stormed out to an early lead and then added to it and we looked in serious trouble as historically there is no team better at finishing out a match than New Zealand. But then again, historically the USA has never been this good at rugby. Something had to give and it was the All Blacks and we stormed back into the match. With the game tied in the dying minutes discipline left the New Zealand side (yes, you read that correctly) and they gave up a series of penalties, including a yellow card, as they tried to absorb the unrelenting Eagle pressure. With a tap penalty just 5 meters out we tried to bull our way through and were stopped, but enough men in black had to commit to the tackles that Carlin Isles was able to pick up the ball and waltz around the weak side for the winning score. Magic! We are #1 – now the only thing left was to win the final.
Now I didn’t get to see the final live as tragically I had to get on an airplane to get to a client site on Monday morning. The timing couldn’t have been worse as the final kicked off at 4:30 while the placne was scheduled to take off at 4:50. I was thrown a lifeline as the United flight had those little screens in the back of the seat in front of you and you could watch live TV. Fantastic! ESPN here we come. So I am sitting in my seat while everyone is boarding watching some rugby. I watched the intros. I watched the anthems. I watched as we got possession of the ball, swung it wide left and then back right where Ben Pinkleman dashed through a gap to score. Woo Hoo! I am doing little punches in the air and wriggling around in my seat with joy, much to the great admiration of the others in my row. (At least I assume the look they gave me was admiration.)
$#*&^%*ing United Airlines – I will never fly you again.
This is the moment that United Airlines – They Whom I Will Never Fly Again – decide to run a video explaining how to use a seat belt, followed by a series of ads for United. More than 10 minutes worth of this crap and I was swearing profusely and shocking my previously admiring neighbors the whole time. I eventually turned it off knowing that I had essentially missed the game and by the time I landed in Iowa the match would be long over and I hoped I could catch the final on replay. Sadly that was not the case as it wasn’t posted yet and since I would never be able to avoid seeing the results I looked for it and caught some highlights.
AND WE WON!
Not only did we win but we dominated. THIS is how you win on home soil. THIS is how you represent the best that is America. THIS is your #1 ranked USA Eagle 7s team!
Everyone knows about Boom Boom Barrett, he of the beast mode bump off and crunching tackles. He is a key member of our squad and, along with Pinkleman, Tomasin and Leuta do the hard work to get the ball out to the likes of Niua to work his magic and put people away. Yes they get their share of tries but their value is in turning over and securing possession while putting the Fear of Pelicanland in their opponents. Why the Fear of Pelicanland? Because all of the aforementioned hard men, aside from Pinkie, are local lads done good. We are Pelicans! Hear us squawk! (OK, so that slogan needs work, but you get the idea.)
Danny Barrett deserves special attention, however. He put on a 20 second display of the toughest rugby I had ever witnessed. In the quarterfinal against South Africa he was playing as good as he ever has. An early try, a classic Barret power move from a penalty was immediately followed by a turnover at a tackle. Shortly after that he went in hard on a tackle and broke his arm. Of course, play moved on so he didn’t stop but got back to his feet and MADE ANOTHER TACKLE with one arm. At this point the Springboks (foolishly) kicked ahead and the training staff came on to tend to him, but a breakout from Isles brought play back towards him and he got back into play so at the tackle HE CLEARED OUT THE RUCK. WITH A BROKEN ARM! This freed up the ball to go to Martin Iosefo who strolled in for our third try effectively ending the contest in the first half.
Unreal. Of course that meant that the USA had to play the semis and the final without their enforcer and the 2 time World Player of the Year, but hey. No problem.
A couple of weeks ago I called out Carlin Isles and questioned whether he should be in the squad at all. He had been the great hope and the faster player in world rugby for almost a decade. He was exposed to a full time, professional training environment and world class coaching and yet he never progressed. He always was the really fast guy who could do nothing else and was routinely on the bench in crunch time against better teams because he could not be trusted. The emergence of Perry Baker limited his playing time even more to the point where he was a Saturday player – great against the lesser pool teams where his pace could overwhelm but an afterthought in the knockout rounds where the teams would target his matador defense and contain his speed.
But then Perry Baker broke his jaw and he was thrust back into the spotlight. The Eagles were playing well but his deficiencies were on display for all to see prompting my comments.
But then something magical happened: he got better. He played well in Sydney with some critical tries but was still a rag doll on defense and useless at breakdowns so I stood by my claim. As we followed the World Sevens Series graphic and hopped across the globe to Las Vegas I still had my doubts so imagine my surprise as watching the first few games I noticed something different about him. He was engaged in defense. He was not shying away from tackles or ineffectively leaning on rucks. The speed was still there so he was scorching players, but he was reading situations with a better understanding as to WHEN to put the pedal down and when to pull back.
In short, he was becoming an international class rugby player.
Was anyone seriously expecting a mea culpa? Of course not, and in fact I am patiently waiting for the outpourings of gratias tibi ago. As stated before he had 10 years of world class coaching that achieved nothing. Nothing, that is, until I lit a fire in his belly. In retrospect it seems obvious that he (and probably Mike Friday as well) read the Hail Pelicus comments and, in a moment of epiphany tailor made for Hollywood, complete with a stirring training montage and looks of steely determination, he rededicated himself to world class rugby. (In the inevitable blockbuster release I see Job Oliver as Mike Friday, Chris Rock as Carlin Isles, and of course Brad Pitt playing myself.) In keeping with our theme, Friday adopts the motto of Semper Paratus and makes the critical technical adjustment of putting Isles into the middle of the defense instead on the edges. Anyone else notice this? It seems counter intuitive to put your weakest defender in the middle of the pitch where he would get the most action but the benefit is that he now had help on either side when making tackles where as he was far too often isolated and exposed on the wing. Carlin then adopted his motto of Audentes Fortuna Iuvat and took this opportunity with both hands. He showed steel in defense and actively engaged in rucks, even contributing to some turnovers. It was a joy to watch and was as important a development as any other in not only our victory in Vegas but our sole possession of the #1 ranking. Well done, indeed.
(EDITOR’s NOTE: So that people don’t have to bust out their Latin to English dictionaries:
Mea culpa: My apology
Gratias Tibi Ago: Thanks to you I give
Semper Paratus: Always prepared
Audentes Fortuna Iuvat: Fortune favors the bold )
Just In Case
In the event that you, dear reader, has skipped all the wonderful prose above to get to this point, it is with great pleasure and no humility whatsoever that, according to the longstanding tradition I made up a few weeks ago, I must remind everyone that the USA is ranked #1 in the world in 7s and in fact stand 5 points clear of their nearest challenger.
2019 USA Rugby Game Management Guidelines
Looking for guidance on how to manage a game? Well, USA Rugby has your back. You can find the 2019 USA Rugby GMGs here: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1XXcRfsVtLLqUawEHUI47ei0dt_65fDM.
If you do not have access to the google drive linked above you can also view them as well as other pertinent documents here: http://www.usarugby.org/referee-resources/
Disciplinary Action Reporting – Process For Reporting Incidents
The various competitions all have their own disciplinary chairs and this will make it difficult to centralize the communication and data. To help we have developed a form that will centralize the process, regardless of the competition. The link to the discipline form is https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSc42vbdqnFVH0u1BGTLhjOivDO2hNsmV4NXvvnC4FyAka7sKQ/viewform?vc=0&c=0&w=1
- Copy the link and have it available on your smartphone. If you have an iPhone add the link to your home screen.
- When needed fill it out and click submit. The discipline chair of the competition you refereed will receive a notification about the incident.
- He/she may contact you latter for more details.
- If you have any questions as to how to use the app please refer to the following video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Uz0_gTaOnY
On To The Game Reports!
Pacific 12 – Cal Maritime 48
Referee: Allen Gray
Cal Maritime had some transportation issues – their bus never showed up. So, we delayed the start of the game until 19:15, to allow for proper warm ups. And it was difficult to get warm when it was such a cold night. I was thankful be running around instead of freezing on the sidelines. The pitch was grass, nice and wide, and well marked. There was one section that was kinda swampy underfoot, thankfully play never went over there too much.
Before the first kick of the ball, both teams were in agreement as to the expected outcome of a Cal Maritime victory. The 1st half seemed to follow with the expectations, 31-0 in favor of Maritime. But this was not representative of UoP’s performance. They were a younger team, with less experience, but they were tenacious, challenging at every chance. UoP also struggled in the scrums, with several newer players and their need to improve the front row form. Maritime were well prepared for the scrums and were dominant.
The second half was a different story, the teams agreed to allow free subs if the point difference was over 28. With that, Maritime brought in some of their replacements. This move disrupted their flow and UoP found a groove. Maritime were held to only three tries in the second half while UoP got two on the board. At the final whistle, UoP seemed happy with their second half performance and optimistic for future games. Cal Maritime also looked pleased with the result and being able to get many players into the game from their bench.
All in all, an excellent display. Few infractions and both teams very much played within the spirit of the game.
A footnote for our youngest Pelican, Peter Gray, who was on the sideline and offered up some commentary and explanations to spectators who were attending their first rugby match.
Vienna 33 Gonzaga Black 0
Location: Somewhere on the East Coast
Referee: Stephen Valerio
A high school friendly to kick-off the season between Gonzaga Black, their second Varsity side vs Vienna Boys, a high-quality side from Virginia. It was the fourth match at the end of a long day of rugby for the various Gonzaga sides.
It had been rainy off and on throughout the day and by kick-off it was cold but dry and Gonzaga’s artificial surface drains well. The first half was very tight, Vienna was aggressive but more disciplined at the breakdowns and while both sides tried kicking for territory the back three were able to handle the ball and no real benefit was gained. Unfortunately the game was marred when a Gonzaga player got concussed, and while they were responsive and had mobility, an ambulance was called halting action with 12 minutes left in the first half. By the time we hit the half-time break, which was abbreviated Vienna held a 5-0 lead. The rain returned in the second half and Vienna began challenging at every ruck and putting Gonzaga under extreme pressure. Several rucks that looked like were clean Gonzaga ball were turned over when Vienna hit the rucks hard and were able to push back Gonzaga. Plus Vienna controlled the scrums, stealing several balls against the head. With Gonzaga starved of consistent possession Vienna cruised to a 33-0 win.
Chico State 97 – Univ Nevada Reno 7
Referee: Chris Tucker
Finally! A game in the sun on a flat grass pitch! Welcome back to Chico, where I did my first ever game (the B side, behind the ever-present RSW), and where it’s always fun to come back. Beautiful day, with sunny-ish skies, cold temps and open mountain passes allowing UNR to make it safely in and back.
My delight at the grass surface was tempered somewhat at the first couple of whistles, by the discovery of a LFRP from the previous game, stuck in the jamb of the whistle. After the first try which Chico scored after 7 minutes, I was able to dislodge it, cursing under my breath about artificial surfaces and the evils that they represent.
The game itself was one-way traffic. 57-0 at the half, and nothing much slowing down Chico except for a host of subs after about 10 minutes of the 2nd chukka. One prop did manage to make it to the sideline, sit down, get the ice-pack on, only to come back on less than 3 minutes later as a blood sub. Only other item of note was a fine consolation try created by the #15 of UNR who ran forward with purpose, broke the line for maybe the first time that day, offloaded to the #8 who crashed over carrying 3 defenders with him. And then promptly went off injured.
As time expired, I noted with satisfaction that Chico had not, in fact, managed to break the scoreboard, and were still in double digits. 97-7.
Olde Gaels B 27 – Jesters Rugby FC 43
Referee: Roberto Santiago
This was a crackerjack of a game. Both backlines had strong hard runners, which led to more than the usual number of big hits. Both teams played with fire. The Gaels scored first, securing a pop kick in goal just 90 seconds into the match. The rest of the half belonged to the Jesters. The visitors first score came on a bruising run through a seam by their captain #8. After ten scoreless minutes the Jesters broke through and like a BART train at rush hour, and then again ten minutes after that and again ten minutes after that. Down 24-5 after the first half, the Gaels could have folded. When the Jesters scored just 76 seconds in, frustration was evident in the home team and boiled over with as self inflicted wound that left them playing with just 14. At times during the second half, the men in blue were down to 13 due to injuries. But they showed their resolve by winning the second half 22-19. Then we had sandwiches. It was good day.
Sacramento Capitals 15 – BA Baracus 25
Referee: James Hinkin
A tale of two halves with tackling, running and tries, but no kicking. BA Baracus took the trip up to Sacramento to take on the Capitals before the Vegas break and get their first win of the season and to that end they came out hot. The field was in good shape considering the recent rains and footing was not much of an issue. The visitors looked to be the dominant side as they raced out to a 3 try to 1 lead by halftime. Notice how I didn’t mention conversions.
The second half was an entirely different story as the home side did a little soul searching and started their comeback. In an complete reversal the Capitals started being the aggressor and dominating the contact. The response was more than enough to overwhelm the tiring BA Baracus side as 4 tries were run in to secure the points on the day. Notice how I still haven’t mentioned conversions.
With all of the fine rugby being played the only blemish on the game was neither team’s ability to kick points. Granted, none of the tries were right in front but several were very makeable. The footing was not always perfect inducing one slip on a plant foot but if both sides want to progress they can’t leave points off the board like that. All in all, it was a good rugby day and both captains were a pleasure to work with.
San Joaquin-Stanislaus RFC 31 – Redwood Empire RFC 34
Referee: Giles Wilson
Harlots had the field ready and clearly marked in plenty of time, Redwood started to arrive by 12.15 but logistics (a key player oversleeping) meant that they didn’t start with their best team on the field.
Both teams had good numbers, with Redwood having a group of particularly large props. Both teams could play with structure but both struggled with conditioning which allowed the other opportunities.
Redwood started well but were unable to score in the first half. Harlots absorbed the early pressure and had a good first half with four tries for a 24 – 0 half time score.
The delayed Redwood players were introduced at half time, a powerful #8 along with his passenger, a half back with organizational skills. Redwood worked their way back to an even score before going ahead to 29 – 24. The Harlots were spurred back into activity and went ahead with their 5th try with 10 minutes to play and a 31-29 point lead.
Redwood took about 6 minutes to score again and a 34 – 31 lead with 4 minutes to play. Harlots tried but were unable to overcome the 3 point deficit.
Santa Clara 33 – UC Santa Barbara 13
Referee: Paul Bretz
AR: Bruce Bernstein
AR: Will Nelson
A well-played match by two teams choosing vastly different styles of attack; Santa Clara chose a more expansive open game and UCBS opted to look to maintain possession using a more conservative, pick-and-drive attack. As the game progressed into the second half of play Santa Clara’s pace provided the opportunity to get on the front foot and they were able to pull away from their opponents late in the game. Thanks to Bruce Bernstein and Will Nelson for ARing the match.
Santa Clara B 17 – UCSB B 0
Referee: William Nelson
UCSB was short players so they borrowed some from SCU. Not the highest caliber rugby…
Santa Clara Women 83 – CSU Monterey Bay Women 31
Referee: Bruce Bernstein
Santa Clara Univ. Women scored 5 tries in 1st half, let CSUMB women back in game to begin 2nd half when they closed the gap in scoring before breaking away later in 2nd half. Another great game to ref as both teams played with spirit of the game!
Silicon Valley 34 – Fresno 29
Referee: Stephen Moore
An excellent match played hard and competitively by both sides. Score sea-sawed a little in the second half with Fresno closing a 12 point deficit. Second half was exciting, with Silicon Valley, finally coming out on top. Players were respectful and very manageable. There was a discipline issue in the second half with a professional foul by SV resulting in a yellow card for slowing ball at a ruck. Other than that match was well played, enjoyable, along with a good spectator spirit.
St Marys College 116 – SDSU 0
Referee: Steven Fenaroli
SDSU traveled to SMC for a D1a competition. The game was pretty lopsided, with SDSU putting some good phase ball together. When they were able to swing the ball out wide they made good progress.
UC Davis 26 – Cal Poly Men 11
Referee: David Pescetti
Cal Poly made the trip up to Davis for the yearly battle of the Mustangs. Unfortunately this year Musty got corralled by Gunrock and wasn’t able to bring home the win this year. But there’s always next year Davis. Next year…
De La Salle 39 – Marin Highlanders Rugby Club 29
Referee: Peter Sandhill
The venue for this High School Varsity Premiere League match was St Mary’s College soccer field, under light on a frigid Saturday evening. (Aside, this has been the coldest winter in the 23 yr that I’ve lived here.) De La Salle hosted Marin and both teams came out firing on all cylinders with hard hits and speedy runs. Marin scored in the first five minutes to go up 5-0. The forwards fought it out with slight initial dominance to De La Salle. In the scrums, however, they completely dominated with well executed shoves timed perfectly with put-ins. Both teams had solid back lines with passing all the way out to the wings (impressive). The game was fast and hard. De La Salle score several tries in the first half, bit by bit, to take a lead at half time.
The second half was more evenly matched. Marin slowly gained momentum and mounted a solid comeback and for about 20minutes forced De La Salle off of their game plan. For a while, Marin were throwing it around like the Fijian Sevens team, with flick passes, wild and changeable. De La Salle could feel the match slipping as the scoreboard gradually kept ticking up. Their captain spoke to them and settled them down. They began to play it tight to the ruck, pick and drive again and again, maintaining possession as best they could, to hold on for the win
Like most High School matches, the teams circled up after full time for the usual player awards and coaches warm wishes. The De La Salle coach said that the momentum was on Marin’s side and he suspect if the game went for another five minutes, the game may have gone the other way.
Congratulations to both teams for a good game. Clean, hard and fast rugby by two skilled sides. A joy to referee.
UC Santa Cruz 26 – Fresno State 28
Referee: William Nelson
Very competitive match that came down the wire.
Middlesex University 12-26 London School of Economics
Location: Allianz Park, Hendon, North London
Competition: BUCS South Eastern 3A
Referee: Preston Gordon
I visited the home of Saracens for a game that featured two well-matched London university teams. Middlesex plays some of their home games at Allianz Park, which is also a public athletics facility, and home to a local running club. There were a lot more people along the touchline than the handful I occasionally noticed in the stands, but getting to ref in this stadium was a very cool experience. The last time I was there was to watch the England-USA women’s test match on November 9th of last year.
As for the two teams in my game, they had last played each other 3 weeks previously, and LSE won at home 57-7. Perhaps it was Middlesex playing this return fixture at home, the synthetic pitch, or temperatures approaching 70F on a perfect afternoon, but both sides shot out of the gates at full speed. They were both obviously well drilled, and wasted no time moving the ball wide and laying into each other with full intensity tackles and rucks. It was a good reminder that any rugby match can “go to 11” right from the start – and any ref had better be ready for that.
LSE got the first try 10 minutes in, which they converted. Middlesex responded at 20′ with their own converted try to tie the scores at 7 apiece. At 29′ LSE took the lead again with a converted try that came off a poorly-thrown pass. Instead of trying to gather the ball at his feet, one of the centers fly-kicked it from near the 22m line towards the in-goal. I got close enough just in time to see it grounded by a teammate right before it went dead. Eleven more minutes of play took us to halftime, with the score remaining 7-14.
The second half saw a similar pattern, but each team’s defense had the upper hand for most of it. Aside from a couple of stoppages for injury replacements, and a 55′ yellow card to one of the LSE props for being the 3rd man running in to a handbags situation after a high tackle I’d already penalized, the continuity of the game was excellent. LSE scored the next try at 68′ and added the extras to lead 7-21. The Middlesex reply came just five minutes later, with an unconverted try at 73′ that brought them within 9 points at 12-21. They had possession for much of the final 6 minutes as they were hunting for the defensive bonus point. Ultimately, at 82′, a Middlesex speculative wide pass was intercepted and returned for a try by one of the LSE wingers. The conversion didn’t go over, leaving the final score at 12-26, but that did earn LSE an attacking bonus point in the competition.
If I’m understanding the British universities rugby system correctly – no guarantee of that – it’s somewhere between impressive/scary to realize that this was the 6th level from the top, nationally, and 3rd from the top in the South East region. A team like Cal or SMC would have a tough time beating either of these sides. Regardless, I was happy to be given the opportunity to handle this match, and as I said, it’s difficult to think of a better place than Allianz Park to referee on a Wednesday afternoon.
UC Davis Women 24 – Stanford Women 17
Referee: Jeff Richmond
Davis’ ability to get the ball outside to a couple of fast backs made the difference. Stanford had excellent control of possession, able to generate 10+ consecutive phases of attack at a time. However, Davis sustained a solid defense, with sure tackling, keeping Stanford at bay. Both teams showed good discipline and ability to adjust, incurring fewer than 5 penalties in the second half compared with twice that in the first.
Fresno State 64 – San Jose State 10
Referee: Giles Wilson
SJSU have a small squad which has been hit by illness, putting this game in doubt until the night before. In the end 11 travelled and borrowed players from Fresno State who really wanted some game time before their game with Chico.
Some heavy showers on the way down gave way to nice weather in Fresno. The off campus field was well marked and while definitely soft, it held up well during the game.
Not a great surprise that San Jose, who started with 14, took a while to gel with the borrowed players and with a gap out on the wing. Fresno took advantage with 5 first half tries (4 conversions) – delivery of the tee was very efficient with a young supporter doing the honours. The 15th player arrived during the half, which helped San Jose somewhat.
In the second half, SJSU were able to put together more time on the ball and some more consistency. This allowed them to score two tries but Fresno were still able to score 5 more through better understanding with each other on the ball and a lack of defensive understanding, inevitable with the scratch nature of the San Jose team.
Final score 64 – 10 in favour of Fresno.
Humboldt State 73 – Sonoma St 22
Referee: Pete Smith
No Report Received.
This Week’s Photo
Another local lad done good, San Jose native Todd Clever scoring as he led his team to the First Annual Noodle Babz 7s Championship. When asked for comment, Las Vegas 7s Tournament Director Jon Hinkin said “We never have any fun”.
For the Senate
Pelicus Pedem Referre