The USA men's 7s team started their time in Las Vegas poorly.
Despite more time together and a healthier crew, they still suffered from some of the same sicknesses of Wellington, namely leaving players in isolation, turning the ball over, and just plain putting themselves behind the eight ball.
Against Samoa they (almost) turned it around. But for a couple of mistakes, they would have beaten the defending USA 7s champions, and in fact were still in position to do so even with those errors. They made some superb plays on restarts, defended doggedly, and lost 12-7. It was a thrilling match, but in the end a loss.
"It seemed like this game we were on the same page," said Colin Hawley, who played especially well, slotting in at flyhalf as Folau Niau moved to scrumhalf with Luke Hume benched for a rough first half against Australia. "That was our takeaway from the first game. We wanted to attack them, but that didn't mean not spread their defense as well. I think we were a little too eager the first game; that happens. We've still got be there to support our guys."
Leaving players isolated resulted in a series of turnovers that produced Australia tries. Against Samoa, that really only happened once.
Carlin Isles, who got his first start and did plenty to warrant another, tried to run around the Samoan defense. But the narrower field at Sam Boyd didn't help him, and Samoa saw the move early and handled it. Isolated in the tackle, Isles turned the ball over. Samoa spun it right, and Reupena Levasa showed how to do it, by running straight, jinking outside, straightening up, and then another little jink. Blaine Scully got a hand on him, but only a hand and Levasa scored the game-winner.
That wasn't the only error of the match. Scully sent a grubber for Isles in the first half, a move that worked against Australia. This time the kick was a tad long and rolled dead.
In the first half, Matt Hawkins just couldn't hold onto a pop pass that seemed to half try written all over it. Two knock-ons late in the game in the Samoan 22 scuttled important scoring opportunities.
And then, at the end of the match, Rocco Mauer was away on the wing. He tried to kick ahead to get past the sweeper, but it was a poor kick and went into touch. That essentially ended the game.
These were little mistakes, mostly of execution rather than decision-making. But there were also positives.
"We had more success in the kickoffs and that gets us started on the right foot," said Hawley. "We put everything we had in there, but we just have to play a bit smarter, that's all. In the second game we improved, and the next game we've got to improve more."
Captain Matt Hawkins gave the team a talking-to after each game, and told then that putting your heart and soul into games is expected, but you also have to use your brain. Combining all of those things is the USA challengte at the moment.
The Eagles frace Spain to close out pool play Saturday at 2:34 pm.