The team may just be a club, but Penn rugby played in front of perhaps the biggest audience all year long of any Quaker sports team last weekend.
Penn rugby competed in the Philadelphia Division of the Collegiate Rugby Championship, and several hours of the weekend-long tournament were broadcast on NBC Sports, and even NBC in the middle of the day. As for the crowd itself, over 27,000 people showed up to the Talen Energy Stadium just outside of Philadelphia on Saturday and Sunday to watch teams from all over the country play in the seven-a-side, action-packed matches.
Unfortunately for the Quakers, they lost all four of their matches in the tournament, but they got off to a bright start.
Pitted against rivals Villanova for their first game early Saturday afternoon, the game was tight throughout. The teams were tied at 14 near the end of the game, but a late try from the Wildcats ensured them a dramatic 19-14 victory over the men in Red and Blue.
“We had a competitive game against ‘Nova at the beginning [of the tournament], and lost a really close match. I think that, to be honest, threw the team off a little bit the rest of the weekend,” rugby coach Nic Clapinson said.
Indeed, the Quakers failed to put up much resistance in their other two matches of group play. Part of that might have had to do with the fact that their next opponents were eventual-champions of the Philadelphia Division, University of Delaware, but regardless, they were thrashed, 29-0. The final match of the demoralized team’s group play was another one-sided contest, finishing 33-0 against Rowan.
The results may seem lopsided against Penn, but Clapinson seemed to think it was an indication of the rising quality of teams in the tournament.
“It’s definitely not a social level tournament — even at the qualifier level now,” he said.
The quality of the tournament has undoubtedly risen in recent years, as the United States prepares to enter a sevens team into the Olympics, which is holding the event for the first time since 1924. Many of the players for the best teams at the Talen Energy Stadium last weekend are vying for spots on the national team’s roster that will compete in Rio.
On Sunday, the Quakers had a chance to set things right by at least going out with a fifth-placed finish by winning their consolation match against West Chester, but again, the side lost a nail-biter, 17-12.
“Now at least we have that marker to improve from going forward in the next couple of seasons,” Clapinson said of their sixth-placed finish.
Regardless of results, the team, the school, and the sport certainly got high levels of exposure by being aired live on national television. With 27,000 in attendance, and hundreds of thousands of viewers at home, the club team can walk away with a sense of pride having competed.
“There isn’t any bigger-level athletic event that any Penn team plays in,” Clapinson said. “You know, Penn won’t find itself on NBC [again] anytime soon.”
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