The best performance by an American men’s team so far in Las Vegas? Tiger Rugby beating Spain 14-12 in the quarterfinal round of the Men’s Elite 7s tournament.
The Eagles went 0-2 on Friday. Tiger Rugby beat Spain, who has done very well in European competition lately. Tiger Rugby’s roster includes nine players with 7s Eagle experience, many of whom have been passed over in recent selections – Justin Boyd, Peter Dahl, Tai Enosa, Riaan Hamilton, Duncan Kelm, Ata Malifa, Nese Malifa, Peter Sio and Dallen Stanford.
“We’ve got a bunch of guys on my team that I think should be playing in the stadium,” said Tiger coach James Walker. “I know (USA coach Al Caravelli) might argue with me on that one, but the results speak volumes.”
Many of those Tiger players are out to prove they can still play on the international level.
“It’s good, especially of a group of guys that just got rejected and now we’re trying to rebuild,” said Sio of the Spain win. “For a group of guys that never train together, we just play and try to beat them. They beat the US team every time, and they beat us in Kenya, so it was kind of like revenge.”
Tiger lost handily to Spain at Safaricom 7s in Kenya late last year, but the experience gave the team confidence.
“They beat us pretty bad on the scoreboard, but we thought it was a lot closer, the actual game itself,” said Walker. “And we really felt like we could get a crack at them.”
Tiger played a lot of defense early, but turned Spain over on its side of the field. Spain committed a penalty, and Nese Malifa cleared the ball into touch. Tiger ran a fixed play on the set piece, and Howden sliced through the Spanish defense for a try.
“It’s an option play, and he ran it to perfection,” said Walker of Howden. “He’s kind of got a funny build. He’s a big, solid boy, and I think people underestimate his speed and his step, and I think the Spanish got caught napping there.”
Spain rebutted with a chip kick and recover that set up their first score. 7-7 at halftime.
Spain opened the second half scoring with its second try, but failed to convert.
Tiger got the ball near midfield with little time on the clock. Dahl, who came on as a reserve, charged through multiple would be tacklers and recycled the ball. It was spun to Enosa, who took it into contact and lost it backward onto the ground.
Boyd, also on as a reserve, scooped up the ball, made one move and ran past the Spanish defense. Nese drilled the easy conversion to give Tiger its winning margin.
With the game-ending whistle and a Spanish loss eminent, one of Spain’s props egregiously ran over Malifa off of the ball with no wrap.
Tiger Rugby's campaign to turn heads and prove its point continues tomorrow. If the veritable American B-side beats the French Force XV Froggies in the morning, it'll play inside Sam Boyd Stadium in front of over 20,000 fans.