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.
The USA’s Gold Coast 7s ended in the Bowl Semis with a less-than-perfect 19-5 loss to Scotland.
The USA started the game – for the second game in a row – with an error on the kickoff. Shalom Suniula’s kickoff went out on the full giving Scotland a free kick at midfield.
The Scots did very well to keep possession and while they were almost held up in the tackle, recycled to Sam Hidalgo-Clyn, who sneaked over in the corner to make it 5-0 Scotland.
Scotland retained ball from their own restart, and came close to scoring twice. Excellent tackles from Mark Bokhoven and Zack Test kept the score at 5-0. Finally the USA got the ball, but their attacking attempts left too many players isolated.
Folau Niua made a big break that looked promising, and he hooked up with Mike Palefau. But the return pass went to ground, and from that turnover Scotland worked the ball to Ross Miller, who sidestepped past a poor Bokhoven effort to score under the posts.
That made it 12-0 at halftime. At the break, USA Head Coach Al Caravelli wasn’t pleased, telling his players they needed to support each other. If you’re tired, said the coach, let me know and we’ll sub you off. Clearly not thrilled with the effort level, Caravelli watched his team lose possession on the restart once again, and Miller punched through to make it 19-0.
The Eagles finally did get something going, but it was very late. Two good runs from Peter Tiberio set up Folau Niua to grubber through for Colin Hawley, who grabbed the ball, pushed off his tackler, and scored.
But the USA restart again didn’t go ten meters, and it just seemed like those little issues – mistakes and penalties, put the USA in the situation of beating themselves.
The USA gets five World Series points, and finish the tournament 2-3, but they will look back at each of those losses and see how they weren’t so much beaten as beat themselves.
Notes: Al Caravelli used the same starting lineup in every game. Of those, Zack Test and Mike Palefau were the most consistent. The USA made five restart errors (kick out on full or not 10 meters), the most of any team in the tournament. Given that the Eagles pride themselves on their ability to retain their kickoffs, giving the opposition a free kick when they should have been on the attack certainly hurt them.
Fiji's Sevens stars responded to the hopes and dreams of a nation by beating reigning HSBC Sevens World Series champions New Zealand in the final of the Gold Coast Sevens 26-12 to take an early lead in the new season.
The Fijians travel to Dubai next weekend for round two of the Series with 22 points, three clear of New Zealand and five ahead of third-placed South Africa.
After emotional anthems, Fiji's inspirational 33-year-old captain Setefano Cakau set the tone for a superb final when he threw a dummy and raced 50 meters to put his side into a 7-0 lead.
Cakau left the field injured before half time, and not before Tomasi Cama had cut the deficit to two points and then put New Zealand 12-7 ahead when he set up an attacking move and then latched onto Tim Mikkelson's raking run to score his second before half time.
After the break the Fijians lost a further key player in Osea Kolinisau but they levelled when Joeli Lutumailagi raced clear to score, and a minute later they turned over the ball in New Zealand's 22 and found Emosi Vucago in space to lead 19-12.
Watisoni Votu crossed to cap a thrilling attacking build-up and the Fijians led 26-12, a lead they held onto until the final whistle sparked mass celebration.
Earlier New Zealand had beaten hosts Australia 26-7 with Cama scoring twice and Fiji had beaten South Africa 24-7 with tries from Jimilai Naikadawa, Osea Kolinisau, Setefano Cakau and Emosi Vucago.
South Africa did recover, though, to beat Australia in the new play-off for third place 17-5 with tries from Chris Dry, Johannes Prinsloo and Paul Delport.
Young Welsh too strong for Samoa in Plate
A young Welsh sqaud defeated Samoa 26-15 in the Plate final to collect 13 Series points. Richard Habberfield crossed twice in the victory as Paul John's side recovered from their Cup quarter-final defeat to Fiji to life the Plate.
Wales' semi-final was a physical encounter, which they won 14-12 against France as Habberfield and Richard Smith both scored tries in the victory.
Samoa also encounter a bruising semi-final which they edged 17-14 against England.
Paul Perez began the scoring with Samoa's first two tries either side of a Mat Turner effort. Taulagi Afamasaga extended the lead before Turner's second gave England a glimmer of hope, but Stephen Betham's men held on.
Los Pumas win three to lift Bowl on day two
Argentina defeated Scotland 17-14 to lift the Bowl title and collect eight Series points thanks to Manuel Montero's sixth and seventh tries of the weekend.
Earlier Los Pumas defeated Tonga 24-15, which included a great individual effort from Agustin Migliore out wide to secure the victory, and Scotland beat USA 19-5 with Ross Miller crossing twice in the semi-finals.
Nicolas Fernandez Lobbe's side had come from 12-7 behind to eventually beat Japan 38-12 in the quarter-finals thanks to two tries from Javier Ortega Desio, whilst a James Fleming hat-trick helped Scotland beat Niue 36-0.
USA ended the Bowl quarter-finals with their 24-5 victory against Papua New Guinea including two tries from Nick Edwards while Tonga beat Kenya in the day's first match 7-5 to set up their semi-final against Argentina.
PNG claim Shield Shane Howarth's Papua New Guinea beat Japan 31-19 in the Shield final to collect three Series points, and lift the first silverware of the new Series.
Papua New Guinea reached the final after a 38-0 victory against Niue thanks to 16 points (two tries and three conversions) from Albert Levi.
Japan booked their place in the Shield final after Katsuyuki Sakai snatched a dramatic last minute 19-14 victory against core side Kenya.
The USA is in to the Bowl semifinals after beating Papua New Guinea 24-5 Saturday at the Gold Coast 7s.
The Eagles weathered a couple of small mistakes, especially after their own kickoffs, but played smart, team 7s rugby to win fairly comfortable.
The game started with a trick play, as the Eagles opted for a kick off to the right wing for Nick Edwards. But Shalom Suniula’s kickoff didn’t go ten meters, giving PNG a free kick.
The USA defense was good, however, and after getting the ball back, the Americans went all the way to the opposing tryline. Edwards was involved twice, including at the end, where he was held up in-goal.
But that just meant a five-meter scrum for one of the best scrum teams in the Sevens World Series. The USA won the strike and spun it wide, where Shalom Suniula eventually scored.
Up 5-0, the USA made another mistake on the kickoff. Zack Test nabbed the ball in the air, but the Eagles were pinged for an offense in the ruck that they shouldn’t have committed and PNG quick-tapped and 65 meters later Dougie Guise was in at the corner. That made it 5-5, but any thoughts of an upset for PNG were ended seconds later. Test went up again for the kickoff and was taken out in the air by Shadrach Ghabiliha. That earned the PNG player a yellow card, and the USA did well to take advantage. They were patient with the ball and worked both sidelines before Matt Hawkins made the key run. Test did well to recycle and then Mike Palefau drew two defenders and fed Edwards, who walked over.
That made it 10-5 at halftime, and right after the second half begun, and still up a man, the USA made it 17-5.
This time it was simple ball movement that gave Palefau a sniff of a gap and he beat three men to go in from 35 out.
PNG made their best break of the second half after that, but some excellent perimeter defense from Mark Bokhoven forced a lineout deep in the USA half. The Eagles took a quick lineout and worked their way downfield. A long pass from Suniula was caught by Edwards on the bounce, and he did the rest to make it 24-5.
PNG had one more shot, but the USA defense held, and they happily took the win and now face Scotland in the Bowl semis.
The win guarantees the USA at least five points in the HSBC Sevens World Series. Beating Scotland will give them seven, and a Bowl Win eight.
Notes: The experimental sub rules in effect for this tournament allow teams to use all five subs. USA Head Coach Al Caravelli has taken full advantage. He has started the same seven players for all four games so far, and used all his subs as well, ensuring game time and experience for his newer players.
The USA plays Scotland at 12:50am ET, 9:50pm Friday night PT
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