The Chicago Lions kicked off their 2019 sevens qualifying campaign with a victory at Forest City 7s in Rockford, IL by defeating the Detroit Tradesmen 17-7 in the final.
Finishing 3rd was the Milwaukee Rugby Club, who took down the Cleveland Rugby Academy in the 3rd place match.
A big surprise on the day was the inability of Metropolis to progress beyond pool play; a tie with Milwaukee in their second game of the day meant they missed out on the semis via point differential. The men from the Twin Cities coasted to a Midwest 7s series title last year before showing well at the Club 7s Nationals in New York, reaching the quarterfinals. They will look to get things back in order this week and reclaim their place as the team to beat in the region.
As for the Lions, 2019 is about redemption. After an underwhelming performance a year ago, in which a 45-0 loss to Metropolis in the final qualifier ended their hopes of returning to nationals, the Lions are determined to once again find the form that saw them reach the semifinals of the national tournament in 2016, and the quarters in 2017.
For this first qualifier of 2019, the Lions employed a collective team effort to dispatch each of its opponents. A young side, Chicago used its speed and fitness to outwork some of the bigger, more physical teams like the Tradesmen, and aggressive line speed on defense to keep opposing offenses out of any kind of rhythm.
The introduction of collegiate standouts Andrew Guerra (Notre Dame College) and Alex Cleary (Central Washington), both of whom were recognized by FloRugby for an outstanding collegiate national tournament, and Kenyan national team member Oscar Dennis has brought depth to a team already ripe in talent. These new additions will help solidify a unit led by returning players Jack Casey and Joe Van Zyl.
There is little time for these teams to regroup, as they will all gear up for the second qualifier this weekend in Chicago at the Firehouse 7s.