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Rugby captures first summer title

The USF rugby club earned its first tournament victory of the summer season Saturday by winning the Open Division in the Gulf Coast 7’s tournament, which was hosted by the Bay Area Pelicans, at Lakewood Athletic Park in St. Petersburg.

7’s tournaments are a bit different from regular rugby as only seven players take the field instead of the usual 15. The matches are seven minutes per half with a one-minute halftime instead of the usual 40-minute half and a 10-minute halftime. The club only plays this type of rugby during the summer, and in recent years, has had its share of success.

“We started off the first few couple tournaments of the summer doing just OK,” club president Sean Masse said. “In previous years we’ve done better, but winning a tournament like this is a nice way to wrap up the summer.”

The opening round of the group play stage saw the Bulls pummel the opposition with a 52-0 victory. It was the largest margin of victory for a USF 7’s team in recent years.”It was nice ’cause we got some guys back who had been gone for the summer,” player James Callihan said. “It was nice to have that speed and ability back on the field.”

The second match of group play handed the Bulls their only loss of the tournament. Playing against a nationally-ranked Daytona Beach team that has state-wide rugby talent, the Bulls had trouble maintaining possession against the hand-picked all-star squad. The end result was a 37-5 defeat.

In the final round of group play, USF faced the Naples Hammerheads. It wasn’t the first meeting between the two as the Bulls lost a close game to Naples just two weeks earlier at the Todd Miller tournament in Orlando. The result this time was the opposite, as USF rallied in the closing minutes to win 15-14 and earn a spot in the playoffs.

With only two matches separating them from the trophy, USF took on another tough opponent in the Gainesville Hogs. Again the Bulls trailed at halftime, but were able to rally in the second half for the win by scoring two unanswered trys, with the final score 17-12.

USF drew Orlando for the final. Having played four matches in one day, it was a formidable task for the Bulls to walk away winners after the fifth.

“I can’t really explain how tired we were,” Callihan said. “You’re doing a lot of running since the field is the same size as it usually is. You can only imagine how exhausting it gets.”

USF started the final match by winning the opening kickoff. The Bulls were able to score quickly, giving them an early lead, but still trailed at the half.

“We’re a really confident team,” Callihan said. “We felt like we had had some bad luck, but we weren’t playing bad. All we needed was a few good breaks and we were right back where we wanted to be.”

In the second half, the Bulls came out fighting and were able to score the final two trys of the match, giving them another 15-14 victory and the Open Division title.”This was our best performance yet this summer,” Coach Gordon Campbell said. “It’s odd sometimes how even though the level of play (by USF) has gone up, the results don’t show it (compared to last year).”