ponty.net at the USA Collegiate Sevens


The "Buckeyes" squad
The "Buckeyes" squad
Bert "Pontydragon" James
Bert "Pontydragon" James

With Pontypridd coach Paul John also in charge of the National Sevens squad, and players such as Gavin Dacey, Aaron Bramwell, Lewis Williams and Kristian Baller having featured for Wales, the Samurais and other squads, interest in the sevens game is high. The Ponty website sent its USA correspondent, Bert James, to report on the Collegiate Sevens Tournament in Columbus, Ohio…

The U.S.A. has a long way to go...but, there are positives

“When opportunity knocks, to see ANY meaningful rugby in the States, you know I just have to open that door.  Time limits only allowed us to attend the Saturday games, but myself, my son, 12 year old Morgan, and his Ohio cousin, 13 year old Sam, just had to check out the Inaugural USA Collegiate 7’s Rugby Tournament in Columbus, Ohio, the weekend of June 4th.  Although it was a 9+ hour car ride for me and Morgan, it was a ‘no brainer’ decision to go.

Leading up to the event, I admit I had some concerns about how long Morgan would be able to stay focused on the action, as his only prior live match experience was Wales 15’s 77-3 victory against the U.S. in 2005.  And, rugby is something totally new for Sam.   Knowing what a great game this is, I never should have had any doubts…they watched, intensely, from 1:30 p.m through 7:30 p.m., with no problem whatsoever.

We had a great tailgate, with grilled burgers, hot dogs, and pork spiedes, washed down with Coca Colas and Yuenglings.  Then, it was time for some action!!!

I was very disappointed in the crowd.  Crew stadium, home of pro soccer’s Columbus Crew, has a capacity of 22,500.  Unfortunately, the crowd (and I use that term loosely), looked to be about 1,500.   Then again, the weatherman predicted that mother nature would be in a very bad mood that Saturday.

Organizers did claim the stadium would be selling $1.00 (£ .68) hot dogs and reasonably priced beer.  Well, they came through with the hot dog promise, but the ‘reasonably priced beer’…I guess it was open to interpretation….a 12 oz. plastic bottle of Budweiser (about 2/3 of a pint) for $7.50!?!?! (£ 5.12)…buying just 2 bottles near equals the cost of a 24 pack of Yuengling lager 12 oz. cans at the retail.  Oh, well.

All the matches were outstanding.  And, Gav Dacey’s advice to watch the flyers, was well taken.  There were two ‘games of the day’.  Utah vs. Bowling Green and the huge rivalry of Ohio State vs. Penn State.

Bowling Green, who earlier lost 12-0 to Ohio State, put a huge scare into a heavily favored Utah Utes squad.  With Bowling Green leading 10-7, Utes and 19 year old USA 7’s member, Thretton Palamo, seized control of the game, just in side the 22, with only 30 seconds left on the clock.  Palamo diced the opposition and ran in for a try, untouched, to seal the victory.  The Bowling Green supporters (BG is in Ohio, so there were a decent number there) were crushed, and the few Utah faithful all wiped the sweat from their brow.

At 4:00 pm., just when the live network TV coverage from NBC was to begin (the first, EVER network TV coverage of rugby in the States), mother nature took over.   The thunder was a loudest I have ever heard in my life, and the lightning soon followed…along with the heavy downpour.   It was so nasty that the announcer directed the supporters to evacuate the stadium’s aluminum stands.  Thankfully, play resumed approximately 45 minutes later.

The match we anticipated the most finally arrived.  The Ohio State University Buckeyes vs. the Pennsylvania State Nittany Lions (we are bordering states).  For those that don’t know, although I live in Pennsylvania and have gone to a Penn State American Football game every year since 1969, with attendance at all home games over 105,000, I love the Buckeyes (long story).  

For a time, it was a see-saw battle, with college American Football player, Nate Ebner, eventually leading the Buckeyes to a 19-12 victory.  The conquest was sweeter than usual, because Nate’s father was murdered in a robbery at his place of business in 2008, and the alleged killer is still awaiting trial.  I think Nate would prefer to put him on the pitch, for a real live workout session.   I was fortunate enough to shake hands with Nate, and congratulate him in the tunnel under the stands, right after the game.  Although he appreciated it, he stated that his goal was to find his Mom.  Class act, all the way. 

No doubt though, the tournament’s culmination on Sunday was much more than anyone could have hoped for…long time USA collegiate 15’s powerhouse, Cal, vs. Utah.  Though exuding confidence, most thought that Utah had no chance against the fundamentally perfect Cal Bears. 

There is nothing better than the score being tied at the end of regulation time, 26-26.

Utah prevailed in the overtime, pulling out a hard earned 31 to 26 victory, with USA U20’s star Don Pati scoring the winning try, right under the posts.

Overall, it was a fantastic event, and we were all thrilled that we made the decision to take the ride.  And, I have two little guys that can’t wait to see more rugby.

Sadly, the next day, I bought the Sunday edition of the premier Columbus newspaper, the Columbus Dispatch (Columbus’ population is 711,000).   The only rugby news was a pic of local Ohio State boy, Ebner, making a tackle against Utah on Friday night, and the match results from Saturday…. like I said, we have a long way to go!”

Bert James


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