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Rhinos U23s Dominant at NAI 7s

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Rhinos U23s Dominant at NAI 7s

Rhinos, in green and black, vs Silicon Valley in the final. Alex Goff photo.

The Men’s U23 bracket at the NAI 7s turned out to be all about the Rhinos.

The Southern California-based program, which works closely with a group of young rugby players throughout the year, dominated the championship.

Winning all six games over the weekend, Rhinos recorded three shutouts and two wins in which they gave up just one try. Only the semifinal, a 31-12 victory over the Mustangs, saw an opponent score twice.

Fast, unified, and intelligent the Rhinos beat Antelope 31-0, Broncos 49-0, and Wolverine Selects 50-5 to win their pool.

The Rhinos then shut out East Rugby 38-0 in the quarterfinals before getting past Mustangs.

In the other side of the bracket, Pool B was much tighter. TOA won the pool with a 2-1 record, just better than the Mustangs, who were also 2-1 but took 2nd on points difference.

But oddly it was 1-2 Silicon Valley that made the final. SV improved throughout the weekend and didn’t let two close losses to Mustangs and TOA faze them. They got by the Broncos in the quarters and then exacted revenge over TOA in the semis.

So, on to the final.

The game was close early on. Silicon Valley worked to get out of their own 22 and defended well. But Rhinos were clinical and patient in keep the pressure on and twice were finally able to suck in enough defenders to send the ball wide to Trinidadian sensation Jonathan Taylor. 

“It’s a lot easier when you have these guys just putting you away for the try,” said Taylor afterward.

Silicon Valley answered with a perfectly-weighted kick ahead from Ethan Van Tonder for his chasers to gather and score.

But it was typical of the Rhinos’ way of playing that they adjusted immediately to tat tactic. Not only were players quick to chase back when SV tried to kick again, but teammates were back and aligned to receive a pass and start the counter-attack. It all spoke of a group of players who play together a lot.

Meanwhile, when SV worried too much about Taylor, Royaal Jones was there to find the gaps and slice them up.

It was a total team victory.

And Jeremiah Munoz pointed out how that all came about.

“Having Cecil Afrika and Frankie Horne as the coaches; they teach you everything,” he said. “It doesn’t hurt at all.”

Final Order of Finish:
1. Rhinos
2. Silicon Valley
3. Mustangs
4. TOA
5. East Rugby
6. Broncos
7. Antelope, Wolverine Selects


Rhinos U23s Roster:Timon Vijn
Jonathan Taylor
Cameron Rafferty
Luke Haynes
Royaal Jones
Jack Rampton
Cameron Crichton Melville
Dayen Joyce
Gustaf Unga
Jake Cassidy
Jeremiah Munoz
Rand Santos
Cyrille Cama
Lotu Pulu