College Sports

U.S. rugby men, women secure 2016 Olympic berths

USA Rugby better call a travel agent.

The U.S. men’s and women’s teams each won their side of this weekend’s North America Caribbean Rugby Association Sevens Championship to secure berths for the 2016 Olympic Games.

The American men scored 21 points in the first half and survived a late push from Canada to grab a 21-5 win in the final, while the women ran away from Mexico to the tune of 88-0.

“Here we come, Rio,” said Perry Baker, who scored the opening try of the game for the men’s side. “That’s all we wanted, man. We’ve been dreaming about this for the longest [time]. All the hard work we’ve been going through, it was all for this qualification right here.”

Both teams struggled to grab control of the game until Baker got free along the sideline in the fourth minute and went the distance. That’s when the floodgates opened. A well-timed pitch from Baker helped spring Danny Barrett, who ran half the length of the field and dove across the try line with a man draped on his back. Maka Unufe tacked on another try to push the lead to 21-0 at the half.

“The whole time I just had this weird feeling that it was going to be a slow game at first,” Baker said, “but once we scored, we were going to find some momentum.”

Harry Jones scored a try for the Canadians with just over three minutes left in the game and the team was threatening to score again when a timely tackle from Zack Test helped the U.S. regain possession. Despite two yellow cards in the second half that left America a man down for four minutes, the U.S. held off a late surge.

“Playing with seven guys is hard enough,” Barrett said. “When you lose one guy, it’s like the hardest thing in the game for us.”

Canada and the U.S. each cruised through their respective halves of the bracket to get to the final. The American men notched a 74-0 semifinal win over the Cayman Islands, while the Canadians beat Mexico 34-0.

In the third-place match, a furious rally by the Cayman Islands ultimately fell short as Mexico held on for a 26-19 victory.

On the women’s side, the U.S. didn’t face much of a challenge.

After a sloppy start to the final, the U.S. took control with seven tries in the final five minutes of the half. The Americans, led by hat tricks from Kate Zackary, Kelly Griffin and Lauren Doyle, recovered nearly every kickoff and rarely relinquished possession during the game.

The rest of the day followed a similar script. The U.S. shut out the Bahamas 59-0 in a quarterfinal win and beat Jamaica 53-5 to advance to the final.

“It’s great that we got to come out to North Carolina this weekend and qualify on our home soil and it’s great to see our men do it, too,” said Kristen Thomas, who scored the team’s first try of the final.

Trinidad & Tobago grabbed third place with a 12-10 comeback win over Jamaica.

The U.S. joins Fiji, South Africa, New Zealand and England in the men’s qualifying field for the 2016 Olympics. New Zealand, Canada, Australia and England have clinched spots for the women’s side.

Rugby returns to the Olympics for the first time since 1924.

DiLalla: 919-829-4835