The Guam Rugby Club Barbarians U16 Boys team didn’t leave Utah empty-handed, the team returned home with hardware.
Late last month, while competing on the North American Invitational Rugby 7s tournament in Salt Lake City, Utah, GRC pounded its way to a bronze medal finish, showing the world that rugby in the Mariana Islands is on par with the best in the nation. In the third-place match, GRC defeated USA Rugby South Panther Academy 31-12.
“Expectations, of course, were to take first place, but I had a gut feeling about this particular squad that they would bring home hardware,” said GRC head coach Tony Costa. “The team chemistry met and exceeded my expectations, and it showed on the pitch.”
On the opening day of the two-day tournament, Guam swept the competition 3-0, setting up a quarterfinal clash against the New Mexico Desert Warriors. Against New Mexico, the Barbarians broke the Warriors’ spirit, shocking the states-based team 45-7.
Tony Costa told The Guam Daily Post that every one of his players stepped up against New Mexico.
With one playoff win in the record book and a trip to the semifinals etched in stone, the Barbarians had to face their toughest test of the tournament. For GRC’s journey to the U16 Boys Tier II Cup Finals to continue, they had to get past Rhinos Academy Development, a top team from San Clemente, California.
Against Rhinos Academy, GRC led at halftime but second-half penalties and a charging Rhinos squad were too much to overcome.
“We came out swinging hard in the first half and the scoreboard showed it. We won the first half,” Tony Costa said. “The second half was part of the game that we lost to ourselves as we gave away so many penalties. The game did not go the way we planned, but we had the athletes to win this game. We couldn’t pull it together in the end.”
Rhinos Academy, a more experienced and more disciplined team, defeated Guam 24-14.
“We lost discipline in the rucks, unfortunately,” Tony Costa said. “But it was a good lesson for us and we now understand what it takes to play at a higher level of rugby. But what a game it was! Very entertaining!”
Saige Calvo, who played prop for Guam, said he was pleased that GRC finished one place higher than in 2021, but knows the Barbarians fell short of the mission.
“We started the game off strong against Rhinos, leading by 2 points. But we slowly started to lose structure and discipline going into the second half. We beat ourselves that game,” Calvo said. … “It’s sad that we lost our semifinals game, but we gained so much experience playing out here, and gave Guam a reputation to uphold for the next years to come.”
He added that he and the team are very thankful to have had the opportunity to have represented the island, making people take notice of Guam’s capabilities and bringing back some hardware.
“We worked very hard for this opportunity and are very grateful for the support from our family, friends, and our island,” he said.
Tanner Costa, the coach’s son, fly half and team captain, shared his father’s and Calvo’s feelings about the Rhinos game, describing the contest as a battle that the Guam team should have won.
He said that Guam lost focus and suffered tunnel vision, playing a different kind of rugby instead of their own.
“The whole team and I know we didn’t lose to them,” Tanner Costa said. “We lost to our mistakes, and we kept digging ourselves deeper and deeper into penalties and mistakes. And that’s what cost us the game. … ” When we lost, it was very humbling and it was a very heavy loss for us to deal with.”
Trey Blas, GRC center, said losing to the Rhinos marred the unbeaten streak and that the Barbarians had walked onto the pitch “too comfortable.”
“My team and I have learned from our mistakes, and we’ll be back next year for gold!” he said.
While the U16 Barbarians played physical, Guam-style rugby through pool play and through the quarterfinals, the islanders found themselves adjusting and adapting their game to the Rhinos.
“The team and I know that we could’ve beaten them if we had stuck to playing our style of rugby,” Calvo said. “And we know we could’ve taken it all the way and gotten first.”
Not only did the Rhinos’ play make it difficult for GRC’s players to adapt under pressure, the game was equally tough on the coaching staff. With more than 30 college scouts on the sidelines, all eager to add skill and strength to their rosters, the moment’s crushing weight was tenable.
“The game against Rhinos was high pressure for the team and coaches,” Tony Costa said. “This was a whole new level of rugby for us, as we have never gotten this far in this tournament.”
Tony Costa shared that he, his assistant coaches and players, left Utah with a great sense of pride, but he knows there is so much more they need to accomplish before returning to Salt Lake in 2023.
“The biggest takeaway would be to prepare the team mentally for high-pressure games,” he said. “I feel like we should have had the mindset of: cool as ice and the body hot like fire, ready to battle!”
“GRC coaching has got to level up as well, and we should see some guest rugby coaches coming to help out in the near future with this process,” he added.
Despite falling two rings short of the bullseye, Tony Costa is extremely proud of his team’s accomplishment.
“A coach always wants more from the team, but I am still super proud of the teams,” he said. “After all, it is the biggest youth rugby tournament in the lower 48. This team was beating rugby academies! Just saying!”
Rhinos Academy camp
In the week leading up to Utah, GRC’s U16 Boys and Girls teams participated in an immersive, four-day training camp at the Rhinos Academy in San Clemente.
Tony Costa described the camp as a next-level experience.
“Honestly, working with the Rhino coaches was, across the board, an eye-opening experience for the coaches and players,” he said. “I can’t wait for the next tour and spend a bit more time at the camp, learning from the pros,” added the humble coach, hinting that Guam’s enrollment into Rhinos Academy, a mecca of higher learning, may become an annual pilgrimage .
He described the experience from instructors Waiselle Serevi and Cecil Afrika as unbelievable.
“I talked to most of the kids regarding the experience and they all said they feel like they have leveled up in so many ways, regarding rugby,” Tony Costa added. “This was one of the best rugby tours we have had to date. The rugby IQ gained, just unbelievable for coaches and players. So humbled by the opportunity.”
“We should see the results in this year’s coming high school rugby season,” he said.
Tanner Costa said the camp definitely helped him improve.
“Even though we were there for such a short amount of time, I have gained so much knowledge and skill, and I am ready to put it into use,” he said.
Blas said that the camp opened his eyes and made him realize what he and the team needed to be working on.
A huge ‘thank you’
Tony Costa, who has been and continues to be a champion for the leveling up of rugby on Guam, knows all too well that this trip and the sport’s continued success are possible only through sponsors and volunteers, who donated hard-earned cash and countless hours .
“I would like to send a special shoutout to all the sponsors and volunteers who made this dream possible for our future national and collegiate rugby players,” Tony Costa said. “Without them, none of this would have happened – changing the lives of our young Guamanians through rugby!”