(Philadelphia) Day 1 of the 2012 Collegiate Rugby Championship 7s saw few surprises, as favorites Life, Dartmouth, Arizona and Cal all emerged from pool play at PPL Park with unscathed 3-0 records. The four teams enter today's quarterfinals as #1 seeds, alongside #2 seeds Wisconsin, Delaware, Texas and Navy.
Life's first CRC outing got off to a shaky start, as Penn State climbed to a 17-0 lead over the much-heralded Running Eagles. The newcomers battled back to 17-12, but it took extra time for Glen Maricelli to avoid an upset by scoring and converting the game-winning try, 19-17. Neither of Life's games could match the first for drama: they cruised through Temple 33-7, and kept up the pressure on Wisconsin to win 36-12.
The Running Eagles won the inaugural USARFU College 7s National Championship last December. It remains to be seen whether the new tournament can supplant or merely supplement the CRC as the most prominent college 7s national title.
Defending champions Dartmouth swept through Pool B, shutting out Florida 28-0 in their final match for a perfect 3-0 record. (They had previously defeated well-regarded Delaware 31-5, and Maryland 31-7.) The veterans played the tactical, cerebral brand of rugby espoused by head coach Alexander Magleby, and executed almost perfectly, allowing the fewest points (12) of any team in the tournament.
Of particular value was the return of Derek Fish, sidelined last year with a torn ACL and MCL. The center totaled for 30 points of offense in his first CRC since 2010 - second only to Arizona's Peter Tiberio, one of Magleby's hand-picked 7s Eagles.
Arizona rugby lived up to its high-scoring reputation, dominating Pool C by the combined score of 104-22. This was in no small part due to Tiberio's presence, as the wing contributed 39 points in three matches to become the CRC's leading scorer on Day 1.
The Wildcats got off to a slow start against Oklahoma, but Brett Thompson landed a hat trick to beat the Sooners 33-12. Led by this dynamic duo, Arizona never really allowed Texas or NC State into the game, defeating them 33-7 and 38-0 respectively.
With no postseason appearance for the first time in the program's history, Cal was under heavy scrutiny entering the CRC 7s. It took sure tackling and a strong effort from Seamus Kelly to grind out Navy 21-10: Kelly fed Paul Bosco to score in the first minute, then added a try of his own in the third. Hours later, the Golden Bears secured Pool D's #1 seed with a 29-0 shutout of Notre Dame and a convincing 29-5 victory over 2011 runners-up Army.
Wisconsin, Delaware, Texas and Navy enter the championship quarterfinals as the #2 seeds from their respective pools. Life takes on Delaware at 9:50AM, followed by Wisconsin versus Dartmouth at 10:12AM. Twenty-two minutes later, Arizona plays Navy, with Cal vs. Texas closing out Day 2's quarterfinal rounds.
Life, Dartmouth and Cal are almost certain to advance to the semifinals - all have played and conquered much stronger opposition. Arizona is the favorite against Navy, but the Midshipmen could upset with young playmakers like Seamus Siefring, who scored a hat trick in a 34-14 win over rival Army.
Day 2's contending and consolation quarterfinals will be broadcast live on NBC Sports Network from 2:00 to 4:00PM, while the semifinals and championship match will air on NBC. The final will air today at 5:30PM, EST.