Dartmouth rugby and USA Eagles compete in Las Vegas

by Gayne Kalustian | 2/17/15 6:01pm

Madison Hughes ’15, who was selected to captain the USA Eagles sevens squad earlier this year, reunited with the Dartmouth Rugby Football Club this past weekend in Las Vegas. The reunion came with the coinciding of the 2015 Las Vegas Invitational and 2015 USA Sevens international rugby tournament as part of the Sevens World Series. Hughes was selected to lead the team for the series’ fifth consecutive leg and captained the Eagles to their best World Series finish since 2010.

The Eagles finished pool play by tying current world leader South Africa 19-19, allowing them to compete in the cup quarterfinal, where they took down North American counterpart Canada 20-0. Competition stiffened quickly for the U.S., who was slated to take on the New Zealand All Blacks, ranked second behind South Africa, in the cup semifinal. The Eagles fell to New Zealand 26-12, and all 12 of the American points were solo-scored by Hughes. The United States eventually came in fourth after facing South Africa again, which handed the Eagles a devastating 31-0 loss to conclude the tournament. Since the beginning of the HSBC World Series, the United States has been steadily improving — reflected now in solid standing as seventh in the global rankings.

“It was an incredible experience and it is always fun to catch up with the Dartmouth guys I hadn’t seen in a while,” Hughes said. “In terms of the national team, we’re really happy with the result. I think we have continued to make great strides as a team, and now we’re hoping to build off this weekend going forward.”

Seeing teammate Hughes playing in person, Dartmouth team President Jake Levine ’15 said, was one of the defining experiences of the tournament.

“The atmosphere was incredible, [there were] real rugby fans [and] the costumes were hilarious,” he said. “The highlight was...getting to see [Hughes] captain the Eagles to a 19-19 draw with South Africa and dictate play over Canada. It speaks to what an incredible player [Hughes] is that his role on the U.S. team is as a distributor. No matter what level [Hughes] is playing at he has a knack for making his teammates better rugby players and look good.”

In between his own matches, Hughes was able to take time to watch his collegiate club battle it out at the Las Vegas Invitational, one of the nation’s largest collegiate sevens tournaments. Dartmouth competed in the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship Qualifier and opened play against the United States Air Force Academy, ranked the No. 6 D1A team — the top rung of collegiate competition in the United States — who broke all the way to the cup semifinals in Las Vegas. Dartmouth lost 29-15 to the Falcons before defeating Georgetown University 50-0. The Big Green then closed out the second day of tournament play by beating the University of Pittsburgh 36-7.

Two points out of cup contention, Dartmouth moved into competition for the plate, defeating D1A No. 15 Wheeling Jesuit University 19-17. Levine said the team played one of its best games under the senior leadership of co-captains Peter Savarese ’15 and Michael McDavid ’15.The game, he continued, was ultimately won by incredible, long runs down the field by John Abraham ’16 and Brendan Cronin ’15, punctuated by a “game-saving” tackle by Colin Walmsley ’15.

The team dropped their final contest to the University of Notre Dame 19-10. Dartmouth traveled to Las Vegas, head coach Gavin Hickie said, to gain experience for the team’s upcoming spring play, kicked off by a March 31 matchup against D1A national champions St. Mary’s College.

“I thought it was great,” he said. “It was good to go into the deep end a little bit. For the squad we have who by and large haven’t played at any other level than the Ivy sevens, it was a real eye opener. It was a great way to start off.”

While the Big Green may not have walked away from the tournament with a championship to add to their record, Hickie said the experience of competing against strong teams made the trip worth it.

“It would’ve been great to win it but we didn’t go out there with the goal of winning the cup,” he said. “I don’t think that was quite realistic. It’s about getting experience and getting the enjoyment level up as well.”

The experience the Big Green gained in Las Vegas will also translate to the upcoming Varsity Cup, a season-long search for the best 15s team in the country. The cup will kick off for Dartmouth at home on April 4, Hickie said. The team will go back to sevens for the Collegiate Rugby Championships at the end of May.

The roster Dartmouth put together for the Vegas Invitational was made up of mostly older players, including two football crossovers Cody Patch ’15 and Stephen Dazzo ’15. Having been confined to the great indoors since it began to snow in Hanover late last year, the team has been unable to carry out full-contact practice, making it especially challenging to head down south to warmer weather and instantly suit up for a tournament. Hickie described the practice space dilemma as “frustrating, but part of the challenge.”

While the team is hoping that Hughes will be back for both CRCs and the Varsity Cup, the senior’s academic and national team schedules will ultimately decide his availability for the Big Green.

Michael McDavid is a member of The Dartmouth staff.