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Is This a National Championship? Who's the Best HS 7s team of the Summer? Here's One Argument

Perhaps this post was put out there a little tongue-in-cheek, but it brings up an interesting topic.

Here's the post: 

If you can't see the post, it's a comparison of the finishes of the two major HS 7s tournaments of the year, Tropical 7s and NAI 7s. Here's the image: 

So kidding around? Maybe not. Remember that the NAI 7s was originally envisioned as the culmination of a North American 7s series. Tropical 7s was supposed to be part of that series, and there was to be a Canadian event—they just couldn't squeeze such a tournament into the tight Canadian schedule. 

And if you did treat these two tournaments as part of a series, what would you see?

Let's give the teams Sevens World Series points for where they finishes and if you did that you'd get this ranking:

 

1. Berks County 36

2. Rhino Rugby Academy 35

2. Rebel Rugby Academy 35

4. Atlantis 26

5. Layton Christian 19

6. Pioneers Selects 18

7. EIRA Red 17

8. Atlantis Black 16

8. Gorilla Rugby 16

10. Utah Warriors Academy 15

11. USA Rugby South 12

12. Kahuku 10

13. Upright Rugby 8

14. EIRA Navy 7

15. Washington Academy of Rugby 7

16. Rock Rugby 5

17. East Rugby 4

Not all of these teams played in both tournaments, so you wonder where Layton Christian or EIRA might have ranked if they'd played twice. But that's the thing, you've got to show up both times to get the points.

 

Not surprisingly, the tournament winners (Rhinos at Tropical and Rebel at NAI) are near the top, but notice Berks, which finished 2nd and 3rd, was actually more consistent. And in the tournaments Rhinos or Rebel didn't win, they were each time knocked out of the quarterfinals by Berks. 

This is unofficial, but fun to look at nonetheless. Using a team made up almost entirely of players from the Berks 15s team that plays league rugby in the spring (with one or two additional players), with the same coaches through the season, Berks ended up right there in the conversation. And maybe they were the conversation.

And one more thing.

Brutal honesty. Being good at anything requires you to look in the mirror and be honest about what's going wrong, and not pointing fingers. Considering how Berks finished in NAI 7s, look at this interview again.

Berks Wins HS Bracket at Surfside 7s

Berks County Rugby traveled to Stone Harbor, NJ to compete in the Elite High School Invitational division of Surfside 7s, hosted by Philadelphia-Whitemarsh RFC.

In a final warmup before leaving for NAI 7s in Utah, Berks utilized a combination of Utah bound players and players from their 2nd side. 

The 10-team tournament consisted of Coventry Wildcats, Conestoga, LaSalle, St Joe's Prep, MD15, Minutemen, St Augustine, Bishop Shanahan, Malvern Prep, and Berks.

Berks went 2-0 in pool play with a tough win over LaSalle (14-7) and St Joe's Prep (31-10). 

This put Berks into the semifinal where they would meet Minutemen.  Berks took the semifinal 43-7, while in the other semi St Augustine beat Conestoga 17-0. 

This set up a rematch of last year's final, which Berks won. This year saw the same result as 2021, with Berks taking the game 17-7. 

Surfside organizers selected Berks prop, Diohnny Ruiz, as the tournament MVP.

Tropical 7s Elite Boys: Rhino Wins, Surprise Berks Impressive

There were surprises throughout the Boys Elite U18 bracket at the Tropical 7s.

In a way, there was a sense of inevitability that there would be a surprise because the tournament had so many strong programs. Pool C's results, with EIRA Red and Rebel Rugby Academy both ending up 2-1—Rebel beat Atlantis Black but lost 10-7 to EIRA, who lost to Upright Rugby, who were beaten by Atlantis Black. The other Atlantis squad won Pool A with a 3-0 record, while Rhinos Academy won Pool B, with Berks County coming in second.

So the tournament was full of select sides, while Berks, which fielded a side made up mostly of the players who suit up for their regular 15s HS club team, found themselves in the middle of it.

In the playoffs, Rhinos edged a talented Pioneer 7s team (winners of the NAI 7s U18 Open division) 12-7, and just got by EIRA Red 19-17 to make the final. Rhinos, who have benefited from the coaching of former South Africa 7s team stars Cecil Afrika and Frankie Horne (see video interview) , had taken a big step forward.

And they played ... Berks. Second in Pool B, Berks was not expected to bypass the likes of EIRA, Rebel, Atlantis, and USA South Panthers. But they did.

A Pennsylvania high school club team founded in 2018, Berks has been building a reputation as a top 7s program too. Berks originated as a U13 program in 2016, and added a U15 program in 2017. The players who started on those teams provide the nucleus of the high school 7s team and its success. That group of kids has won a state championship at every level: U13 (15s), U15 (15s and 7s), and high school (7s).

“The boys wanted to shoot higher,” said Head Coach Greg Stelluti. “ Last summer and fall was a breakout year for the Berks 7s team. They won seven out of the nine tournaments they entered, including the New York 7s premier division and the RugbyPA 7s State Championship."

They also  finished 4th in the U18 Open division at the NAI 7s.

While at the New York 7s, Berks played a very good Upright Rugby Rogues team twice and were victorious in both games. Stelluti met their coach, Tyler Leggatt, and had several conversations with him in New York. According to Stelluti, “Tyler is a fantastic guy and runs such a great program. He told us how impressed he was with us as a club team from Pennsylvania, competing at such a high level. He encouraged us to step up to the Elite division and I cannot thank him enough for his support and encouragement.”

When planning for Tropical 7s, Stelluti asked his team what division they wanted to play in and without hesitation, they said Elite. Playing as Berks County Rugby, the team did bring in three guest players for Tropical 7s, so they are not an exactly replica of their club team. Their Tropical 7s roster was made up of nine players who play regular league rugby for Berks County Rugby, one who plays 15s for another club and 7s for Berks, one player who plays 15s for another club and joins Berks for the big 7s tournaments, and one player joining Berks for the first time. 

Berks was ready to take the leap and didnt expect anything to be easy, but when the schedule was released they saw their first game to be Eagle Impact Rugby Academy.

“I think I was more nervous than the players were,” said Stelluti. “If we were going to have one advantage, it would be that almost all our kids have been playing together in the same system for the last two years. It also doesn’t hurt that we have some stud athletes.”  

Not all of Berks players are used to playing 7s with each other.  Berks sophomore, Ulices Ramirez, started playing rugby in January, and had never played a 7s game.

“The kid had a great tournament," said Stelluti. "He was not nervous at all, and went out there and played great rugby. It was very impressive because he had never played 7s before the EIRA game”

Game 1 - Berks vs. EIRA Navy

Two minutes in Berks opened the scoring when prop Diohnny Ruiz took it 60 meters for a try. EIRA put up a try shortly thereafter, cutting the lead to 7-5 at halftime.  The second half opened with Berks holding the ball for multiple phases until hooker Leo Delannoy burst up the middle for a long try to give Berks a 14-5 lead. Berks played ferocious defense throughout the game with Cole Boyer, Aiden Pavlek, Jake Stelluti, Baylor Kobularcik, Finn McArdle, Cole Patterson, Eli Ross, and Ulices Ramirez all putting continuous pressure on the EIRA attack. Wing Steven Flinton finished the game with a long try and a 19-5 Berks win.

Game 2 -  Berks vs. Gorilla

Gorilla came out fast from the opening whistle, putting Berks on their heels and scoring early. This is the sort of game where a team new to this level might quake a little, but the Berks players remained composed and scored a quick try of their own through center Anthony Bourassa. Up 7-5 Berks continued to control possession and turned up the defensive pressure. The pressure led to two tries from Ruiz, two from Steven Flinton, and one from Delannoy to win it 36-5.

Game 3 - Berks v. Rhino Rugby Academy

The game started out tight and the first half ended with Rhino on top 17-7, with Delannoy scoring the only Berks try.  Rhino was fast and aggressive in the second half, forcing Berks to make several errors and those errors led to 24 unanswered points for Rhino and the 41-7 victory.

But at 2-1 Berks had done enough to make the quarterfinals.

Quarterfinals: Berks vs. Rebel Rugby Academy

The quarterfinal was a very tight and physical match. Rebel was big, fast, and skilled and Berks needed everything they had to hang with them. Berks struck first with another long try by Bourassa, followed by another try from Ruiz to make it 14-0. Rebel didn’t quit and rattled off three straight tries to take a 15-14 lead. Berks responded well and two more tries from Ruiz, with the conversions, put his side up 28-20. The conversions were critical as Rebel came back and scored right at the end of the game to make it 28-27. It wasn't enoguh. Eli Ross and Finn McArdle provided the difference with their goalkicking.

Semifinals: Berks vs. Atlantis Elite

With Atlantis drawing many of their players from Pennsylvania, this game had a little extra juice to it—at least it did for Berks. This game had some players who had just played 15s with each other on Sunday now playing against each other. There were even coaches who had played together as teammates now coaching against each other. The game was physical and even a bit fiery, with a few scuffles along the way, and the action was back-and-forth as well. Berks took a 19-10 lead into the final moments of the game through tries by Flinton, Ruiz, and Delannoy.  Atlantis put one down but didn't have enough time to try to complete a comeback. Berks 19, Atlantis 15.

Final: Berks vs. Rhino Rugby Academy

Rhino was 5-0 on the day and Berks 4-1 as the top two teams from Pool B met once more. Rhino had won convincingly the first time and played superb defense in this game. They scores early, punished a mishandled ball for another, and punished a second-half yellow card with a quick-strike offense to win 31-0.

‘Rhino was very good,” said Stelluti. “Their size, speed and skill were tough to handle for the entire game. Their entire organization was extremely impressive to watch throughout the tournament.”

But Berks was the surprise. It's rare to see what is essentially a group of players who play regular HS club rugby together beat these academy and select sides, but that is essentially what happened. Through it all their goalkicking was a crucial piece of the puzzle. In their four wins Berks kicked more conversions than their opposition, often using that to put pressure on teams (see their opening game when it was only two tries to one, but 14-5, and their semifinal, when again they led by only a try, but by two scores because of their conversions). Their quarterfinal game was won because Berks converted all four tries, while Rebel scored five tries, but could only convert one.

Final Tropical 7s Elite U18 Boys Standings:

Champions: Rhino Rugby Academy
2nd: Berks County
3rd: EIRA Red
4th: Atlantis Elite
5th: Rebel Rugby Academy
6th: USA Rugby South Panthers
7th: Atlantis Black
8th: Pioneer 7s
9th: Upright Rugby
10th: EIRA Navy
11th: Rock Rugby Academy
12th: Gorilla Rugby

WELCOME TO BERKS COUNTY RUGBY FOOTBALL CLUB

Berks County RFC - Inspiring Berks County Youth to fall in love with Rugby, the fastest growing sport in America!  Berks County Rugby Football Club exists to play, promote and grow the sports of rugby union and sevens rugby to the youth in the greater Reading PA region.

At Berks County Rugby Football Club everyone is welcome.  Designed to develop both beginners and experienced players of all skill levels, we train boys and girls grades 5th - 12th (Youth U13, Junior U15 and High School) to play one of the most challenging and enjoyable sports in the world: RUGBY!  Rugby has a place for all body types: small and fast, big and strong, tall or short.  Although rugby is wildly popular around the world, relatively few people in the U.S. are familiar with rugby, so we start from the beginning so everyone can learn.  Even though it looks like chaos to begin with, after a few weeks of practice and a game or two, even beginners “get it” and have a lot of fun!

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Berks Fends Off Tough Competition in Rugby PA Fall 7s Championship

10-31-21 - A hugely competitive Boys Fall 7s Championships ended in driving rain and mud, and no excuses as Berks County pulled off two upsets to win the title.

Berks, St. Joseph’s Prep, Conestoga, and La Salle all came into the tournament with a legitimate shot at winning it all. Conestoga had some impressive power runners and a strong defense. La Salle had depth for days and shifty runners. St. Joe’s had the best kicking game and a really polished sevens approach. Berks had pieces of all of that (maybe not the kicking game … until they needed it).

Berks went into the final tournament with a 13-1 record, and yet with Lasalle going 8-1 (participating in fewer tournaments), St. Joe’s 7-3, and Conestoga at 14-4, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who automatically pegged Berks as the favorite.

Pool Play

Conestoga started off well with a clear 21-5 win over Hempfield. They followed that up with a 27-10 win over Bishops Shanahan in which they fell behind early. Shanahan’s scrumhalf Matt Harper was a sparkplug for that team all day long and needed constant attention. But with Ryan Cammaratta scoring key tries and Eli Ross combining an ability to bust through tacklers and distribute when he drew too much attention, Consetoga looked in control.

La Salle played some exceptional defense, beating Cumberland Valley 33-10, and then holding off an effective West Shore team 7-0. 

But Aiden Bretschneider acknowledged that his team had a target on its back.

“Being one of the only school teams here, we’ve beaten these teams before, so they’re out for revenge,” said the big La Salle forward. 

“The culture on this team is one of the things that keep as at the top,” added Kevin Corso. 

St. Joe’s used their rangy runners and ability to kick to space to torch Blackthorn 36-7. Berks did much the same, 24-5 over Blackthorn. They went wide quickly and were relatively sure-handed on a wet, muddy day. That set up the clash between two teams who could go all the way.

The game would go back and forth. St. Joe’s led. Then the combination of Cole Boyer, Turk Baum, and Matt Cleland produced two tries and a 12-5 lead for Berks. St. Joe’s came back but conversions were hard to come by on the wet ground, as the ball didn’t bounce well. Conversion no good, and Berks held on 12-10.

So the three pool winners went through to the semis along with St. Joe’s, the best 1-1 team with a +27 points difference (West Shore was +12 and Shanahan was -10).

Semifinals

In the semis, once again St. Joe’s was in a back-and-forth game. Ross made a couple of key plays, including setting up the game-icing try, while Cammarata just had a nose for the tryline. Conestoage 28, St. Joe’s 17.

For La Salle vs Berks it was tight all the way. After no score in the first half Berks managed to get one over, only to see La Salle come back with a breakaway that ended with everyone shoving the pile over. That made it 7-7. 

With time running out, Berks then produced probably the try of the tournament. It was just a snappy piece of rugby. Baum cut through the middle, set the ruck, and Aiden Pavlek found Boyer, who set up Cleland with a perfect commit-and-offload for the game-winner 12-7.

The Final

So on to the final. Berks started the game with the ball and working it side to side, but Cammarata anticipated the ball coming back inside and intercepted the pass to go in for the try. However, as he tried to center the ball the Conestoga player injured his ankle and, unfortunately, could not continue. That was a huge blow to Conestoga. Berks, playing without Baum who picked up an injury in the semis, opted to key on Ross thereafter and, for the most part, that worked.

Berks went back to moving the ball and patiently waiting for an opportunity. it came and Boyer raced through a gap for 80 meters to make it 7-5. Then, perhaps the key moment. With the half almost up, Conestoga was threatening. Berks won a scrum near their tryline but were still under significant pressure. Jake Stelluti, in for Baum, saw there was no sweeper and booted the ball downfield. 

The chase was on. Cleland got to the ball first and hoofed it further downfield. He then expertly scooped it up and hydroplaned over the line for a dramatic score.

That was a heartbreaker for Conestoga, as they went from potentially creating a try from defensive pressure to being scored upon 95 meters the other way.

Now Berks had the lead 12-7 going into halftime.

The second half began with Berks getting a yellow card for an intentional knock-on, and Conestoga punishing them with a try for Roma Cammaratta to make it 12-12.

But Berks replied with Pavlek setting up Boyer for his second on a huge run down the sidelines. That made it 17-12, and as the Berks team resolved to keep possession and run out the clock, Boyer saw now cover on the weak side, picked up, and was in at the corner for the 22-12 win.

Both Conestoga Head Coach Chris Ryan and Berks Head Coach Greg Stelluti agreed that the kick-and-chase try at the end of the first half was a key turning point. Conestoga, ready to win the physical battle as they had in the semis, found themselves instead chasing phantoms on the sideline, while Berks was giving as good as they got at the contact point.

An upset? Maybe, maybe not. But it was fun.

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Berks Caps Huge 2021 With NY 7s HS Win

Kneeling (L to R) Aiden Pavlek, Diohnny Ruiz, Turk Baum, Steven Flinton, Eli Ross, Anthony Bourassa; Standing (L to R): Bill Pepper (Asst. Coach) Paul Shingleton (Asst. Coach) Cole Boyer, Leo Delannoy, Jax Shingleton, Jake Humphrey, Jeremiah Thompson, Ryan Cammarata, Jake Stelluti, Baylor Kobularcik, Greg Stelluti (Head Coach).

11-27-21 - Berks County Rugby battled back from a slow start to win the New York 7s High School Premier Championship Saturday at Randall's Island in New York City.

On a cold, windy day on the East River in Manhattan, Berks Rugby opened up pool play at 8AM against Aspetuck Rugby. 

With the temperature in the low 20s at kickoff, Berks found themselves starting cold and were down 12-0 after missed tackles on Aspetuck’s first two possessions.  Berks settled down and kept the score 12-0 through the end of the first half. 

Berks opened the 2nd half with a try by Steven Flinton and they continued to pressure Aspetuck and were soon rewarded with a scrum at the Aspetuck 5-meter line.  A strong scrum by Aspetuck earned them a steal and a 95 meter try by scrumhalf Carson Hill extending Aspetuck's lead to 17-5.

But 7s tournaments have a way of surprising you as the day goes on. Aspetuck lost their next game, 26-10 to Canada's Upright Rugby Rogues, and that set up a crucial clash between the Rogues and Berks.

Berks came out with fierce intensity and put Upright Rugby under immediate pressure by stealing the kickoff. After a couple of quick phases, Steven Flinton found space on the outside and dotted it down in the corner for a 5-0 lead. Continuous pressure on Upright paid off with two tries by prop Diohnny Ruiz and that put Berks up 15-0 at the break. The second half started much like the first, with plenty defensive pressure and some bone-crunching hits. Putting in standout defensive efforts were Cole Boyer, Leo Delannoy, Aiden Pavlek, Anthony Bourassa, Turk Baum, Jeremiah Thompson, Eli Ross, and Jake Humphrey.  Eventually, Berks broke through again with another try by Flinton. The final score was 22-0 Berks.

After the game, Berks coaches, Greg Stelluti, Bill Pepper, and Paul Shingleton all agreed that it was the best game of 7s they have ever seen a Berks team play. Certainly shutting out Upright is no easy feat.

With pool play completed the top 4 teams were reseeded for the semifinals. Berks drew a rematch with Upright Rugby in their semifinal game, while the other semifinal saw RugbyPA All-State matched up against Northeast Academy. 

Berks came out in the semifinal just like they finished against Upright in pool play, with dominating defense and good movement of the ball across the field. Two tries by Diohnny Ruiz, who scored four on the day, and one from Steven Flinton gave Berks a 19-5 victory and a trip to the final where they would see their home state of Pennsylvania’s All-State team. 

In the final, Berks found themselves down 7-0 within the first two minutes with a try by LaSalle’s Mike Boyle. Berks responded quickly with another try by Flinton on the wing. Cammarata’s conversion made it 7-7. 

RugbyPA came right back with another converted try making the score 14-7.  A quick response by Berks, Leo Delannoy, tied the score 14-14 heading into halftime. 

Berks came out in in the second half and started to apply the pressure they had been using successfully in their previous games. This led to Flinton’s 6th try on the day and a 19-14 Berks lead. After a RugbyPA turnover, Berks put on the pressure within 10 meters of the RugbyPA tryline. They were finally rewarded with a converted try by Cammarata. The final whistle blew with Berks taking the cup championship 26-14. 

Flinton, no surprise, was named the MVP.

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