Flying the eight million-hour flight from Brisbane to Dubai, every coach on the IRB Sevens World Series is examining his team and looking for ways to improve.
Where did we succeed? Where did we fail? What improvement, installed over a few short days before the Dubai 7s, will bring the biggest bang for your buck?
USA Head Coach Al Caravelli’s job in this regard isn’t that hard.
Yes, yes, dropping the ball in the opponent’s 22 is bad, and missing a tackle here and there is bad. But really there are two things the Eagles could fix right now and completely turn around some games: support running, and restarts.
Support Running: The Eagles seemed to play at times as if they’re back at the Pan-Am Games. It was a good thing, certainly, that at the Pan-Ams they were able to get to ball to a back and watch him go 60, 70, 80 meters for a try.
But in the World Series, you have to get on your horse and follow that guy, because there are fast men on the opposing team who can catch him. Too often, a player was on his own and ended up turning the ball over or giving up a penalty.
That is not about fitness, it’s about being mentally prepared to do what you need to do. When you think the play is over, then you don’t anticipate being needed. By the time you realize that you should be in support, it’s too late. That’s what’s happening to the USA team. They need to think support immediately, and need to adhere to one of the basic tenets of 7s rugby – follow your pass. Games were won and lost on this alone.
Restarts. The USA has two outstanding restart men in Shalom Suniula and Foalu Niua. However, neither was consistent in their kickoffs.
Ideally, the kickoff goes just about ten meters and it high enough for Zack Test or Mark Bokhoven to get under it and catch it in the air. Ideally. But that didn’t always happen. Four times the USA tried that and either pushed the kicks into touch on the full, or the ball didn’t go ten meters. Either way, that turns the game from USA ball going forward into the opposition half, into a free kick for the other team.
On a fifth occasion, Suniula opted to send a kick to the right, where Nick Edwards was relatively unmarked, so the wing could score a quick try. That kickoff, also, failed to go ten meters.
It’s hard to quantify those five restart errors . The opposition didn’t score every time they got the free kick at center, but they did score three times. The Eagles, had they garnered possession, or, at the very least, been able to pin their opposition down, might have claimed two or three tries from better restarts.
So that’s a series of mistakes worth possibly 25-42 points, depending on variables and conversions. It could have completely changed the complexion of their game against Scotland, and likewise against Australia.
Small comfort, perhaps, but the USA can improve greatly without fancy plays or any other complex solution, if they just get their kickoffs to land infield and past ten meters, and if they start following their passes.