March 24 - The 122-team field for the 2023 Collegiate Rugby Championship crystallized slightly over the weekend, with three men’s teams qualifying across two divisions from the Mooseman 7s. East Carolina and Notre Dame College earned automatic qualification to the Premier Cup, the Pirates beating already-qualified Wheeling in the final. And Auburn punched its ticket in Division II.
A few hundred miles up I-24 in St. Louis, the Big Rivers Conference hosted the second of four stops on its 7s series. While the tournament wasn’t a direct qualifier for the CRC, the champion at the end of the series wins an automatic bid.
Both Thomas More and Principia finished pool play 4-0 to reach the final. The Saints didn’t participate in the Series opener in Bethany, Oklahoma, but Principia did, falling by a late score to eventual champion Marian in the semifinals.
Saturday, Thomas More knocked off the Oklahoma-champion Knights, 12-7, before reeling off wins against McKendree (29-14), Adrian (26-7) and Iowa Central’s second side. Principia beat Iowa Central, (21-5), Aquinas (19-12) and Trine (35-10) in addition to Thomas More’s seconds.
In the championship game, Principia held a 15-7 lead with time winding down. However, Thomas More scored two quick tries late to sink the Thunder Chickens, 21-15. Both scored three tries each, with Thomas More’s successful conversion kicks proving the difference.
In Murfreesboro, the Division I teams were split to one side of the 16-team bracket, and the Division II teams on the other. Wheeling, winners of the Terrapins 7s automatic qualifier earlier this month, emerged from the Division I side of the bracket, beating Notre Dame College, 14-10, to advance to the final.
On the Division II side, East Carolina defeated Western Kentucky, Auburn and Bryant to earn a date with previously unbeaten Wheeling. The Pirates outscored the Cardinals, 27-22, to become just the second non-DI team to ever automatically qualify for the men’s Premier Cup. Last year, Small College Cal Maritime qualified through a tournament at Boise State, beating Minnesota and top-seeded Mount Saint Mary’s for a quarterfinal berth in the Premier Cup.
With the largest field yet of any automatic qualifier this season, the Mooseman 7s was granted two Premier Cup bids – one for the champion, and one for the runner up. Since Wheeling already had a bid, third-place Notre Dame College gets the ticket to the CRC. Through three tournaments this spring, including two automatic qualifiers, NDC has finished second twice and third once.
Finishing second amongst DII teams in Murfreesboro, with wins over Middle Tennessee State and Southern Indiana, Auburn becomes the first team to qualify for the DII national championship.