A Rugby Cult Classic: The Tri-Tip 7s

Cult Classic is a noun used to describe something, typically a film or book, that is popular or fashionable among a particular group of section of society.  So based on that definition the Annual Tri Tips 7s fits the bill. It’s a rugby tournament that is very popular among rugby players. The reasons for the popularity of this 7s tournament are many.  Some of it is the social atmosphere of this day long rugby tournament with over 700 ruggers, some of it is the high quality and caliber of rugby, some of it is the location (the cool California central coast), some of food (thus the name) and some of it is the iconic tournament shirts. 

Let us breakdown what is the Tri-Tip 7s, why you should play in it and what will be happening at this year’s tournament. This is the 31st year of this tournament hosted by San Luis Obispo Rugby Football Club  that caps off the summer and the rugby 7s season. As of now the Cape Fear 7s Rugby Tournament is the biggest tournament in the county with a 65 team field, but the 2nd biggest tournaments the Tri Tip 7s, and it’s the largest west of the Mississippi River. This tournament will boast a field of 56 teams, playing on four green pitches (yes there are a few green fields left in California) totaling 110 games on that one day!  The tournament continues to grow as last year they had 48 teams.

Last year the tournament was won by the East Palo Alto (EPA) Razorbacks who were a national contender for 7s last year and one of the dominant NorCal clubs (in both 7s and 15s). The Razorbacks have won the tournament two years in a row, but will faces competition with the likes of national power Belmont Shore (champs before the Razorbacks) entering two teams  and are currently competing for national 7s title. You will have a large field of teams who will have some Eagles playing with their old clubs and possibly some PRO Rugby players returning to their home clubs (depending on what their contracts stipulate). Tournament organizer  Reggie Greenwood said that they have had a increase in college clubs also registering for the tournament as it gives them a good run to start the year, but also allows them to test themselves and see where they are versus some of the top tier club teams in the State.

“This is one of the only rugby events that I know where rugby guys pay well in advance. I was refereeing some games at the Santa Barbara 7s a week ago and I had three teams give me a check at there at the tournament” Greenwood told us. Greenwood feels the follow through with teams is based on two variables. One, teams are excited about the weekend and two, the slots fill up fast and those who wait can’t get in. Last year the tournament was sold out three weeks before its date. At the time of this interview Greenwood already had half the slots full with still 60 plus days to go.

To keep the tournament from being the same old thing, this year the Tri Tips 7s will have an Old Boys bracket  (Masters’ Division). The bracket is for players 40 and up, and will feature 6-8 teams. “We know some old boys don’t want to play all day, they just want to boot up for a game or two to get that feeling and experience back for a bit” says Greenwood. For this reason each Old Boys side is guaranteed two games and possibly a third if they do well.  All Old Boys sides will be give access right after their second game to the beer garden where they can relax, drink, socialize, and watch some exciting 7s rugby. For those who can’t get enough old boys to field a side (10-12 guys) they have a solution for them as well. Greenwood said for Old Boys they’ve created an “individual registration” and they’ll find a team to put an old boy on, or create a team from players who don’t have a team. So there is really no reason more old boys shouldn’t be down there.

The tournament has landed an international touring side made up of businessmen from Australia and England  and while they may not be the Wallabies, they are guys who’ve played since they were kids who should have a different look to their game which can be both fun and different for the clubs.

So you may still say “I’ve been there before what’s different this year?” If you say that you haven’t been paying attention, aside from the expanded pool, the top level rugby, the Old Boys/Masters Bracket, the possibility of playing and testing yourself vs All Americans, PRO Rugby, Eagles  and that the average temperature in SLO during the tournament is 80-85 degrees (when the rest of the State is burning up), let us give you some additional selling points.

San Luis Obispo (SLO) is centrally located (central coast) and it gives players an opportunity to gather from all over the state to play a number of different teams. The Tri-Tip 7s in SLO is one of the few opportunities for teams from NorCal and SoCal to meet up for a 7s tournaments without having to travel all the way across such a vast state. So, while all summer many clubs have been playing the same competition in local tournaments or qualifiers, at the Tri Tip 7s they can get a totally different look and experience.

Reggie Greenwood last year making 200-lbs of sausage for the event. 

Reggie Greenwood last year making 200-lbs of sausage for the event. 

There is also the part about it being in SLO, a college town (home to Cal Poly SLO a top 20 D1-A rugby program) which has 18 bars and 15 resultants in its pedestrian friendly downtown.  “It’s a college town with a lot of co-eds” notes Greenwood “so it’s a great place for younger players, male or female”. This year the tournament has teamed up with the Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company (a local brewing putting out craft beers), the Beef Council and Harris Ranch (which makes sense as they serve 500-lbs of tri-tip each year and 200-lbs of Swiss sausage and linguica made from a local 125 year old recipe. Who needs Abe Froman?

So vegans...you are out of luck.

One of the biggest developments this year is the brand that we all associate with rugby, Canterbury, has also come into the fold! The folks at Canterbury USA will be putting their deign team to making this year’s shirts (with full input and approval of SLO Rugby and tournament organizers). 

For some ruggers the best part of rugby tournaments other than playing is going home with a tournament shirt, and each year the guys at the Tri-Tip 7s have a new/different shirt with some type of theme. Last year Greenwood said they sold 125 shirts, that’s a lot for a rugby tournament. The Tri-Tip 7s shirts are themselves a cult classic and this year’s will be no different. “We are working this week to finalize the designs and the crack team at Canterbury has got something together which people will like” reported Greenwood.

These new partnerships are important as the cost of the tournament is significant and yet the Tri Tip 7s tournament fees have not really changed over the past few years. For example, to pull off the tournament Greenwood said organizers have to have 30 referees (remember there are 110 games to be played that day). They have to purchase all that meat for the post game tri-tip dinner that has made them famous, as well a park fees and insurance. Greenwood said that they have to get insurance specifically for the tournament each year as this tournament is just two weeks after when players and teams can renew their CIPP or register their clubs and while all are expected to CIPP, the tournament can’t risk relaying on just the USA Rugby insurance and that everyone/team did CIPP, so as a safety issue they have to get additional insurance so they can host the tournament.  

What teams pay and really a per-play cost are not that bad.  If a team shows up with 12 guys it’s $40 per person and Greenwood added “remember that is not just your tournament fee, but also gets you two beer tickets as well as the tri-tip dinner. Also the sausages are available in the beer garden as appetizers at no extra charge”. At most restaurants if you got a plate of tri- tip with some beans, rolls and two beers you’d be in close to $30. Your meal would cost as much as a meal and a full day of high quality rugby.

The tournament does not currently have brackets for youth and Greenwood explained why. “We’ve opted not to do that, as for youth it’s not a good time of year. They are just getting back into school, it interferes with football and it’s hard to organize teams”. What the organizers do is host a 7s tournament each year the weekend after the new year where they host teams from high schools down to the U-10s.  “That works best as we don’t have football, and its also right before the kickoff and start of the youth/high school rugby season for 15s. We get a lot of teams and work to grow”.  Greenwood who is also involved with the local youth program (in addition to being a referee, tournament organizer and sausage king of SLO) says that they are able to pull youth teams from the bay area, central coast, Sacramento, Fresno, and southern California. Having a youth specific tournament allows them to have one just for the youth with ample fields, space and age appropriate activities, and then the Tri Tip 7s can be 100% dedicated for senior players with the live music, beer garden, vendors, etc.

All the details, line up of teams so far, registration information, local hotel accommodations, etc. are all available on their website www.slorugby.org . With half of the slots already taken, we would suggest you get on-line ASAP and get your registration and entry fee in to secure your team’s spot. Greenwood has gotten emails and calls from teams in the South, New England, and the East Coast considering traveling across the country to experience this "Cult Classic" of rugby. This is a big time tournament and in the past you’ve seen high level coaches out and about looking at talent, so this may be your chance to get seen. Get your team out to SLO!!!