Coaching and playing 7s has been the focus of Brian Richardson’s life. For the past 10 years, he’s played and coached for Daytona Beach Rugby, leading the team to three consecutive top-10 finishes from 2006-2008, including a plate championship over the Super League Chicago Lions in 2008 and a bowl championship over Super League OMBAC in 2012.
Despite Daytona’s frequent success, the club saw its captain retire, co-captain move to Denver and many of the players play Rugby League for the Central Florida Warriors during the summer. So with the rugby desire still burning and many players from around the state still looking to play 7s this summer, Richardson, the Florida Director of 7s, embarked on a quest to put together a competitive 7s squad that will try to qualify for nationals.
Of course, with Florida’s official color being orange, he named the team the Florida Burn and the early results have been promising.
The Burn, who mostly consist of players who Richardson coached from Daytona, recently won the Fiji 7s tournament in Miami a few weeks ago. They took down a physical Fort Lauderdale squad that had a strong showing itself in Miami.
While many clubs benefit from continuity and familiarity, the Burn aren’t as lucky.
“Most of the players like this have been strong players for their own club teams and sometimes have a hard time deferring to players with better skills in a certain area,” Richardson said. “I feel I have developed a simple system that caters to players’ strengths and hides their weaknesses.”
One of the biggest challenges is actually finding enough players to travel. Considering the team typically shows up early for tournaments to practice and work on game plans, it’s impressive that the Burn are able to play at such a high level.
Despite the uncanny practice schedule (or lack thereof), the Burn put on a sensational showing in Miami. Richardson said the team started with just seven players in the first game and made zero mistakes against Miami in the first half before the rest of the team showed up. He was happy with the Burn’s strong start against Fort Lauderdale in the third pool game before the ball took some bad bounces and the team lost its composure.
Luckily, the Burn got their act together against Orlando, going up 24-0 before conceding two late tries. The win set up a rematch against Fort Lauderdale, who won a thrilling sudden-death semifinal game over Boca to get to the championship.
Even though the starting seven logged a ton of minutes on the day, they torched Fort Lauderdale by a score of 33-0.
“We executed in all areas, even set pieces and structures where we did not have lots of practice,” Richardson said.
A few players stood out in Miami, including captain and lead recruiter Jeff “Moose” Brill from Krewe and Adrian Salazar, who captained the squad in Miami.
“He had a very strong game from tight head, winning battles in the scrum, running down a breakaway and forcing a turnover in the try zone,” Richardson said of Salazar. “When your tight head can lead a stat sheet, you will win a lot of games. It really was a team win and the players became comfortable in their roles, embraced their roles and excelled in their roles.”
The Burn hope to build on their cup championship in West Palm this Saturday at Surfin 7s. The team will debut their uniforms this weekend and enter the tournament battle-tested.
“We should have a deeper roster and will put aside an overtime semifinal loss to Orlando at Indian River and a semifinal loss vs. USF at Todd Miller,” Richardson said. “It’s cliché to say those losses hardened us, but for a team that thinks they should win, to lose but come back stronger is a lesson learned not to take anything for granted in 7s.”
If the Burn can outright win the Florida Cup at Surfin 7s, they can qualify for New Orleans where they could win the first ever Southern Conference Championship. If they win the SCC, they would fly to Seattle three weeks later, but finding the funds is a challenge.
Luckily for the Burn, Richardson is a well-established rugby pillar not only in Florida but around the United States. He started playing for UCF in grad school after playing four years of Division III football. His playing experience includes stops at the Florida Select Side, South All-Star 7s team, Orlando Rugby and Daytona. He also has been involved as a coach and administrator and is proud to have had six players over the years invited to try out for the Eagles 7s pool team.
As the Florida Director of 7s, Richardson organizes and schedules tournaments for the summer 7s season. He hopes to add a High Performance 7s team that will play year-round. Growing the game is one of his main goals, with the Burn being a prime example.
“The goal is to get players from not just the Burn from Florida on Team USA and to host more high-level 7s tournaments in Florida.”