The sun beat down on the fields of Webster Middle School as men, women and youth gathered for what would become an extremely well organized rugby sevens bonanza.
Tournament hosts Santa Monica mens team were looking to maintain their momentum after winning the 2nd qualifying tournament a week earlier in Tempe.
Ranked #1 for this 3rd Nationals Qualifier of the series, the Dolphins were matched up with the OC Ravens and San Diego team Old Marines to make up Pool A.
The first match of the day at 8:40am was against OC Ravens, with Santa Monica controlling the match from start to finish with a comprehensive victory.
The 2nd pool match against Old Marines would prove a lot tougher, with Santa Monica finding it hard to get into a rhythm with some uncharacteristic mistakes and a lack of energy which seemed to plague most of the team.
Despite the contrasting performance, Santa Monica prevailed winning and progressing to the quarter final ranked 2nd. This meant they would face 7th ranked Old Marines again. Predictably, there was another controversy due to Las Vegas not turning up to fill their spot in Pool D, meaning pool leaders Old Aztecs progressed through to the knock out stages having played 1 less game than the other pool winning Quarter Finalists.
In a low scoring affair, Santa Monica’s Quarter Final was mistake riddled and once again a flat and unconvincing performance against a physical and extremely capable Old Marines. While the Dolphins arguably had the game under control winning 12-7, they knew they would need a lift in energy and execution if they were to topple the fresh legs of Old Aztecs in the Semi Final.
This was not to be, with Aztecs using pace and sharp handling in the Semi Final to beat a Santa Monica team which looked tired and lacked the attacking flair and hard work off the ball which they had shown only 7 days prior in Tempe. Final score 7-21.
The Green Machine, now banged up and dejected after their semi final loss needed to regroup and put in one last huge effort against OMBAC in the 3rd v 4th playoff. An all important victory would mean keeping a healthy points difference from 4th placed OMBAC in the race for Nationals Qualification. But again, this failed to materialize.
In a heated contest, both teams traded blows early, and Santa Monica seemed to finally wake up and display an urgency not seen in any of the previous matches. OMBAC went into the half time break with a one try buffer at 12 – 7, but Santa Monica looked hungry and determined and confident they could overcome their weary opponents.
The second half was one of frustration for Santa Monica, as an early try to OMBAC through their pacey winger out wide halted the Dolphins comeback attempt, evoking panic in their attacking play which prevented them from posting any further points on the scoreboard.
So a final score of 17 – 7, and an overall place of 4th in the tourney was not what the hosts were hoping for, but still keeps them in the hunt for a National Championships berth going into the last Qualifying tournament in 3rd place, with OMBAC only one point behind.
The eventual champions of the day were Old Aztecs. It was obvious that playing one less game gave them the upper hand against their fatiguing opponents Belmont Shore, wearing them down after trailing 2 tries to nil to claim victory in the extended format of 10 minute halves.
This win helped Aztecs leap-frog Santa Monica into 2nd place overall and sets up a doozy of a final tournament to be played on July 20th at Belmont Shore, with all of the top 4 teams in contention for a place at the Nationals in Pittsburg next month.
Full picture set is up for viewing on Flickr HERE