Returning hero: rugby sevens player Alex Doyling back in Bermuda
Colourful jerseys, rippling muscles, violent collisions, grunts, groans, bumps, bruises, taunts, accolades and points galore were just some of the items on display at the Bermuda International Rugby 7s Tournament.
Rugby’s version of March Madness in Bermuda did not disappoint as it delivered on its promise of several thrill-filled demonstrations of physical prowess, both male and female, at the National Sports Centre (NSC) on Friday and Saturday.
The reigning national collegiate champions Kutztown University emerged triumphant, stamping what was an unbeaten run throughout the tournament with a 22-5 win over Brown University in the final.
Among those playing key roles for the victorious Golden Bears was Alex Doyling, who after starring as one of Bermuda’s main protagonists the previous time the event was held, returned in a villainous role for the Pennsylvania school.
Social media has seen Doyling placed in the cross-hairs regarding his new alliance, which have him as part player, part tour guide and local ambassador.
“It’s been a little bit aggressive from the WhatsApp group chats, being called a traitor,” said Doyling with a chuckle.
“It’s all good fun, but I love coming back and I would never miss the opportunity to come back to my country.
“It’s been a good journey back home. I’ve been able to show my team-mates around the Island. Show them different places, such as where I went to school, show them a different part of my life and how my people live.”
Doyling took some of his new friends to Horseshoe Bay for a memorable, if somewhat harrowing, moment when two team members immediately climbed the highest rock structure to get a better view, with the hope being that the pair did not go too native and attempt a dive from the peak.
“They picked the biggest rock and just wanted to see an entire view of the Island,” said Doyling. “They’ve really enjoyed it so far and after we win this tournament we can enjoy a good night out with a few drinks.”
Following single losses in two previous tournaments this year, Kutztown entered the Bermuda event determined to rectify matters and did so in stellar fashion, winning three pool matches against Harvard University (48-0), Mystic Collegiates (29-7) and Vanderbilt University (58-0) to advance to the knockout round.
There the eventual champions again showed their superiority in defeating Stony Brook 43-0 in the quarter-finals and duplicated their earlier 29-7 performance against Mystic Collegiates in the semi-finals ahead of beating Brown.
Doyling played his part in the cause but emphasised the local stop as just part of what the school hopes is a repeat journey to a consecutive national championship, which would be the school’s second in its history after last year’s 17-12 victory over Dartmouth in the Collegiate Rugby Championship (CRC) Men's Premier National Cup.
“We’re looking for this tournament to propel us toward the national title, where we are the defending champions after winning our first ever title last year,” said Doyling, a graduate student, with an eye on entering the reinsurance sector.
“This year we’re really trying to solidify ourselves and go back-to-back as champs, which is what we hope to do at the tournament in April, which will take place in Washington DC.”
The local event presented as something of a spring thaw for the athletes, who have been limited in terms of outdoor activity for much of the year by chilly climes in much of the US, with some harbouring the notion of venturing into the ocean just a few steps from the teams’ base at Warwick Camp to take a swim.
Stephen Siano, president of URugby, which manages and provides coverage for premier matches and sporting events for high school, collegiate and club rugby teams throughout the US and was tasked with recruiting teams to come to Bermuda, noted this year’s event as a solid “reboot” after a three year absence.
“In 2019 we had the best tournament since we started in 2015 and then Covid hit, so we haven’t travelled here in a long time,” said Siano. “There were a lot of teams that showed interest in coming here this year and I think we have had a solid reboot in getting 11 men’s teams and two women’s teams here, and the competition’s been great.
“We have a lot of top teams here. Many of the best teams in the country, including Kutztown, who won the national championship last year.”
Certainly the tournament featured many schools regarded among the cream of the collegiate crop, with Notre Dame, Brown and Harvard the most noted, yet Siano stood in awe of the Bermuda Stars, made up of a collection of college age Bermuda residents.
“I am quite impressed by how the Bermuda team has been able to compete with these strong college teams and the few club teams that we have here like Stony Brook and Mystic Collegiates, which are made up of under-23 players from various clubs.
“Like I said, this has been a solid reboot or restart for the tournament. We didn’t get as much corporate support as we would have liked, but we needed to restart and believe we will be able to get greater support and sponsorship to make this an even better event going forward.”