Men’s rugby turns attention to national qualifier

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Occidental Men’s Rugby after practice on Patterson Field in Los Angeles, Thursday, March 29, 2018. Audrey Rudolph / The Occidental

The Occidental men’s rugby team is focused on the road to National Small Colleges Rugby Organization’s national 7s tournament in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The team will travel to Boston the weekend of April 21 to compete in the national qualifier tournament.

Team captain Will Ayres (senior) said that the team is able to focus on 7s now that their 15s season is over. They last won the 2013 national 7s tournament in 2013, one year before the class of 2018 joined the team.

Ayres said there are eight national qualifiers around the country. In each qualifier tournament, there are 16–20 teams competing for one spot in the national 7s tournament.

According to Ayres, 15s and 7s are two different forms of rugby that require different skill sets. 7s rugby has two seven-minute halves with seven players on each side and three players from each team in the scrum. 15s rugby has two 40-minute halves with 15 players on each team and is typically broadcast on television. In 7s, the focus is to maintain possession of the ball because it is a quicker game where any player can score at any time.

Marlon Savinelli (senior) said the squad prioritizes focuses on 15s at the beginning of the season and then transitions to 7s later in the spring semester.

“The field is just as large [as 15s] so it’s a lot faster, players and the games are much shorter, so it’s a lot higher paced, a little less strategic some people might say but it’s still a lot of fun,” Savinelli said. “We’ve never been the largest or most muscular team, but we’ve had some of the fastest players.”

Ayres said with the addition of football players, the rugby team has almost doubled.

“The biggest difference is getting more numbers,” Ayres said. “We have almost twice the amount of players that we had last year along, so bodies are resources in rugby.”

Sam Ritmeester-Loy (sophomore) takes a break during practice on Patterson Field in Los Angeles on Thursday, March 29, 2018. Audrey Rudolph / The Occidental

A 7s team is allowed 12 players on the roaster. With approximately 15 players trying out Ayres said the internal competition will bring out the best talent.

“We have a lot of competition for those positions, which I think will help us a lot and we’ll have a full squad with very little injuries and a lot of people ready to play,” Ayres said.

With a number of new players, Savinelli said that the focus before Boston is teaching rugby-specific rules to new players because the team already has athletic talent.

“I would say we are a very athletically talented team, but we just need a little more practice knowing the rules and knowing how to play rugby the best we can,” Savinelli said.

Travis Thein (sophomore) is one of the football players who joined the rugby team after the football season was canceled. According to Thein, Ayres and Savinelli help teach more than technical skills.

“I think they’ve taught me a lot about being a leader,” Thein said. “With club sports, it’s usually the seniors on the team who have to put everything together so they’re kinda carrying double the burden to have to deal with scheduling in addition to making sure everyone knows what they’re doing because we are still new to the sport.”

According to Ayres, the team is concentrated on new players gaining experience in quick situational decision making in 7s. Ayres said game experience is important to the team because the seven-minute halves leave little room for error. As a result they include scrimmages in practice and have plans to compete in Biola University’s 7s rugby tournament on April 7.

“One or two decisions that are not the best decisions can cost us,” Ayres said.

Ayres and Savinelli said that in order to find success in Boston, the team just needs to play their best.

“There’s no doubt we have the skill though,” Savinelli said. “We have a lot of very talented athletes, we just need to bring it all together to make sure that it’s actually a qualifying team.”