The Tennessee Rugby Football Club has played in many tournaments during its history on campus, but none perhaps more important than this past weekend’s 7’s Collegiate Championship Invitational, which pitted 16 of the nation’s top sides against one another on national television.
7’s is different from the usual game of rugby the UTRFC plays during its season. The number of players is dropped from 15 to seven, and the number of minutes in a half is dropped from 40 to just seven. The field, however, remains the same size. This adds up to a blistering pace, with plenty of breakaways and tries.
This fast pace and high energy caught the eye of the International Olympic Committee, which approved the sport for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. This past weekend the nation got to see some athletes who could very well find themselves in Brazil in just a few short years.
Tennessee’s tournament run started on Friday with an evening match against Indiana University. The two clubs, which had met earlier during the regular season, were both poised to make their mark on the national stage.
Indiana struck first, but the Vols answered quickly and were able to strike twice in the first half with tries by Samuel Anderson and Benji Goff. Indiana came out of the gate strong again in the second half but was no match in the end for the two more tries put down by Anderson and Jonathan Brown.
“We’ve had a powerful performance thus far,” Brown said of the game. “I think we played well, considering we were still shaking off the cobwebs.”
Saturday morning came early with the Vols facing off against rival Florida. As even as the two sides had played during the regular season, this game was all Vols.
Two tries each by Anderson and Mason Howard, as well as individual tries by both Brown and Goff led to Tennessee’s 35-0 routing of the Gators. Goff said playing on such a high level affected the team’s focus, by bringing the players together.
“Being on such a big stage really had a positive impact on our team because we knew what was at stake,” Goff said. “With the cameras and pressure on us, we knew we had bring it all.”
The Vols’ rest was short-lived, however, with a game pitting them against San Diego State University Saturday evening. Both teams came into the game undefeated in tournament play and both were looking to gain the No. 1 seed from the pool with a win.
The Aztecs capitalized early on Tennessee errors to go ahead 7-0. The Vols answered quickly once again with a runback by Brown on the ensuing kickoff. Another Aztec try and a team effort from Tennessee ending in a Nick Evans try led to a 14-all tie.
With just minutes to go, the Aztecs capitalized when a collision put UT players on the ground. With only seconds remaining, the Vols were unable to mount a comeback and were dealt their first loss of the tournament, 19-14.
Coming out of their pool 2-1 with a second seeding pitted the Vols against perennial contender California in the championship quarterfinals. The Vols had good looks in the game but were unable to capitalize and were defeated by Cal 36-0.
“We have a great understanding of how to play this game and brought one of the better 7’s teams up here,” head coach Butch Robertson said after the game. “We lacked some of the physical skills and depth that other teams have, but I think we performed admirably.”
For Anderson, being able to represent his school and his club meant a lot.
“It feels great to be able to play on such a stage for our school and, more importantly, all the guys in our club,” he said. “We all know how important this tournament was, and it was great to be able to share the experience with everyone.”