USA Sevens Men

Written by Alex Goff    Sunday, 30 March 2014 17:39    PDF Print Write e-mail
USA Still Earned Points in Hong Kong
Sevens - USA Sevens Men

The USA came out of the Hong Kong 7s with only one victory out of five, but crucially ten more points in the IRB Standings, and, less tangibly, some fine performances.

Perhaps their worst game was their 15-10 loss to Scotland, a game where a rain deluge just at kickoff played into the hands of the more experienced Scots.

Brett Thompson looking to offload against Fiji. Ian Muir photo.
If I stay very still maybe he won't see me. Mike Palefau considers his options against Fiji. Ian Muir photo.
Marcus Satavu didn't play a lot, but he is gaining experience. Ian Muir photo.
Top Canada try-scorer John Moonlight. Ian Muir photo.

Still, their 1-2 record was good enough to get them into the Cup Quarterfinals on points difference thanks to a determined loss to New Zealand. The 17-7 scoreline was much, much closer than Scotland or Samoa was able to do.

The Cup Quarters were unkind to the Eagles, but the Americans displayed plenty to crow about. After going down 12-0 to Fiji, they mustered a series of impressive attacks, with Mike Palefau powering his way in from long range (and needing a bit of a lie down afterward).

Mike Te'o showed off his abilities in setting up Danny Barrett for what was almost a try in the corner - he was tackled into touch. Zack Test looked close to scoring and Brett Thompson seemed to have scored, but the ref and the in-goal judge were unsighted, and the video showed nothing. It was a shame, and a bit of bad luck, because that try could have tied the game.

In the end Fiji scored a lucky one late to win a game where the USA had showed themselves to be able to play and to not let a game get away from them.

In the final game of the weekend, the USA got within a try of South Africa, but three first-half Blitzbokke tries put them in a hole. Once again, though, they showed resilience. Barrett and Madison Hughes set up Matyas for a long-range try. Then Garrett Bender pushed off some attention and linked with Brett Thompson for another. Then Nick Edwards scored with seconds remaining. They had a shot to win it, but didn't.

So some learning experience for the USA, but one in which, while the victories weren't there, the mental toughness seemed to be.

The USA moved two points closer to Scotland for 12th in the standings, and really are no longer in any danger of being passed by Portugal or Spain. Spain is almost guaranteed to be relegated next year, with the promotion tournament winners, Japan, taking their place next season.

Notes: Zack Test scored four tries in Hong Kong, and the first one put him over 90 for his career. Test now has 93 - easily the most of any USA player - and has an excellent shot at getting to 100 before the season is out.

Test is also the top all-time points-scorer for the USA, with 447 in 42 tournaments.

Canada continues to play well, making the Cup Quarterfinals for the fourth tournament in a row, and passing Argentina to now sit 7th in the World Series. They are a point behind slumping Samoa.

John Moonlight continues to be their go-to guy on offense, but the big, hard-charging team has done a good job throughout the squad in shocking teams early. They seemed to fade a bit in Hong Kong, and will rue the last-second try by Paul Asquith that put Australia past Canada into the Cup Semis.

Written by Pat Clifton    Saturday, 29 March 2014 06:05    PDF Print Write e-mail
Eagles into Cup Quarters Again
Sevens - USA Sevens Men

The United States clinched its second Cup Quarterfinal appearance in as many weeks Saturday, despite falling 17-7 to New Zealand and finishing pool play 1-2.

The Eagles entered the final pool contest with a comfortable point-differential lead over both Scotland and Samoa, needing to lose by 36 points or less to advance, and they did much better, actually leading the All Blacks at halftime.

By finishing in the top eight, the Eagles will bank more Series points in Hong Kong and Tokyo than they did the previous five tournaments combined.

They also guarantee to widen the gap between themselves (13th place) and Portugal (14th), while also gaining ground on Scotland (12th place). Both Scotland and Portugal missed out on the Cup Quarters.

The United States started the contest with the ball, but Madison Hughes kicked for territory after a couple of fruitless phases. New Zealand then put together an impressively methodical possession, completing 20 passes, before Bryce Heem finally broke a patient Eagle defense for the opening try.

The All Blacks nearly got in again when Ben Lam busted through the middle of the line, but a desperate tackle from Zack Test turned the ball over. Mike Palefau was pinged for not releasing the ball in the tackle on his own five meter, and an All Black quick tapped and dove for the line, but Andrew Durutalo and Test held him up, preventing the score.

The Eagles’ first offensive break came when Hughes slipped through a Lam tackle and scurried to inside the attacking 22 before running out of space. He knocked on in the subsequent tackle, giving the ball back to New Zealand.

Some pesky defense won the Americans the ball back, and Test nearly scored a try with no time left on the clock a couple of New Zealand penalties later, but knocked on while trying to ground the ball.

The All Blacks opted to try and go 100 meters for a score instead of take the lead into the half, and a couple of more penalties deep in their own end gave Test the chance he’d need. He tapped through the ball from five meters out, stepped one defender and lunged into pay dirt. Hughes converted, putting the United States up 7-5 at intermission.

New Zealand regained the lead at the top of the second stanza. Durutalo was called for a high tackle seconds into the half, the All Blacks passed wide off of the penalty play, where Heem simply ran around Danny Barrett for his second try. The conversion was missed, putting the Eagles down three at 10-7.

That lead was extended shortly thereafter. Garrett Bender went directly into contact off the kickoff, New Zealand promptly poached, and Lam ran in with relative ease. This conversion was hit, putting the score at 17-7.

With the result in hand, and both teams into the Cup Quarterfinals, the Eagles and All Blacks both finished the game without much urgency.

Awaiting the Eagles in the Cup Quarters will be either Fiji or Wales.

Tries: Test
Cons: Hughes

New Zealand 17
Tries: Heem (2), Lam
Cons: McKenzie

Written by Alex Goff    Friday, 28 March 2014 22:53    PDF Print Write e-mail
Rain Washes Away USA Hope for Win over Scots
Sevens - USA Sevens Men

The heavens opens and God did not smile on the USA 7s team Saturday in Hong Kong, as the Eagles lost 15-10 to Scotland in a deluge.

The loss put the USA at 1-1 in their pool with New Zealand still to come.

The lights were on before noon in Hong Kong, with the sky so dark it looked like nighttime. And then, when the USA and Scotland took the field, the clouds opened and deposited a flood of rain onto the players. Scotland knew immediately what they needed to do - keep the passes close and win the field position game. The USA lost that battle.

Early on the Eagles had the ball but turned it over. Smart short passes by the Scots eventually produced a try for Mark Bennett. Bennett scored again later in the half. This time the try came from a USA mistake deep in Scottish territory. The Eagles had the ball thanks to some smart play from Madison Hughes, but when Danny Barrett was caught racing to the corner, he tried to keep the movement going with a pass back inside. That pass was intercepted by Bennett, who raced downfield, passed to Lee Jones when Zack Test caught him, and then received the return pass when Test turned his attention to Jones.

Forcing the issue didn't work out well for the Eagles, but they did well after that. Defensive pressure produced a mistake in the ruck by Scotland. The ball rolled out of the ruck to the feet of Nick Edwards, he passed out to Pono Haitsuka who scored to make it 10-5.

In the second half, the USA kicked off and Haitsuka might have done better to kick deep and hope for a knock-on. Instead he tried a perfect kick and the poor bounce off the sodden turf meant the kick didn't go ten meters. Scotland muffed a prime scoring chance after that with a forward pass that didn't need to be made, but eventually they did score, with James Johnston exploiting the fact that USA tacklers were sliding off the wet Scottish jerseys.

Down 15-10 with two minutes to go the Eagles didn't seem to have enough urgency to score early. Still, with subs Mike Palefau and Andrew Durutalo providing fresh legs, they set up a try for Zach Test.

But Scotland held the ball after the restart, and held on 15-10.

This makes making the Cup Quarterfinals very tough for the USA. What they need is for Samoa to beat Scotland, and, if we expect the USA to lose to New Zealand, they need the combined New Zealand winning margin and Samoa winning margin to be less than 42.

USA 10
Tries: Haitsuka, Test

Scotland 15
Tries: Bennett 2, Johnstone

Written by Pat Clifton    Friday, 28 March 2014 05:50    PDF Print Write e-mail
Eagles Start Hot Against Samoa in HK
Sevens - USA Sevens Men

The United States got off to an ideal start in Hong Kong, beating Samoa 26-12 Friday night to open pool play. It’s the Eagles second win over Samoa in as many tournaments and sets them up nicely for a possible second-straight run to the Cup Quarterfinals.

It started as good as it could for the United States when Garrett Bender took the opening kickoff with two hands, the Eagles went weak off the scrum, and Danny Barrett was found on the wing. He got a full head of steam, stretched through one tackle and raced for a try. Madison Hughes converted, putting the USA up 7-0.

Brett Thompson pushing off some attention. Ian Muir photo.The USA got the ball off the next restart, too, and after setting a ruck on the far right side of the field, they moved it wide to Zack Test, who stiff-armed one defender, slipped through the grasp of another and went in for the try. Unconverted, it gave the USA a 12-0 lead just three minutes in.

Samoa then went on the attack, and a penalty helped them get into the USA’s end. Off a scrum about 22 meters out, great defensive pressure forced Pono Haitsuka into touch inside his own five meter. Sani Niue then scored in short order off the set piece, pulling within five at 12-7.

Madison Hughes put the Eagles up two scores seconds later, charging down a poorly laid chip kick and running it over half the field directly under the posts for the USA’s third try. He converted, making it 19-7, which is how the first half would end.

Samoa started the second half with all the possession. After working the ball a dozen meters from pay dirt, Samoa was bundled into touch by Barrett and Nick Edwards. The Eagles took the lineout cleanly and went wide, but Edwards knocked on, giving Samoa a point-blank scrum. Kelly Meafua ran in easily off the set piece, closing the gap to 19-12.

The Americans put the nail in the coffin with about a minute out. Mike Te’o started a game of ping pong with his boot, and Hughes ended it, chipping over the Samoan line, gathering the ball and darting forward. He was caught, and threw a desperate offload to Test, who ran in for his second try of the game. Te'o converted, putting the Eagles up 26-12.

The USA got the ball back with no time left, and Andrew Durutalo knocked on to end the contest.

Up next for the USA is Scotland at 10:34pm Friday CST. If the Eagles win, they all but guarantee themselves a second finish in the top eight.

Pono Haitsuka makes his tackle. Ian Muir photo.USA 26
Tries: Test (2), Hughes, Barrett
Cons: Hughes (2), Te'o

Samoa 12
Tries: Meafua, Niue
Cons: Fomai Ah Ki

Written by Alex Goff    Wednesday, 26 March 2014 12:42    PDF Print Write e-mail
Tokyo Just Reward, But More To Do - Hawkins
Sevens - USA Sevens Men

The USA 7s team's reward for breaking into the Top 8 and making the Plate Final, is to be put into Pool D with New Zealand, Scotland, and Samoa.

Well, thanks a lot.

Time to smile for Hawkins, but more work to be done. David Barpal photo.For this Matt Hawkins-coached team Hong Kong is important as they try to consolidate their position in the standings – the Eagles entered Tokyo 14th in a standings where #15 gets relegated for next season, and improved their lead  11 points, and in the process also passed Portugal for 13th. Getting away from the dreaded 15th spot is huge, and now it seems inevitable that Spain will be the team that drops out.

"I never brought it up," Hawkins said of relegation. "It never was a concern for me. I believed in our staff and our players and our plan and in what we were doing. If I didn't, then maybe I would have been worrying about relegation, relegation, relegation. Instead, we have been following our plan, and knew if we continued to improve and play well, that would reflect in the standings."

So Hawkins is not worried about what points the Eagles might or might not get in Hong Kong.

"Everyone is playing well," Hawkins told "You saw the way Japan turned up and played in Tokyo. And in the promotion tournament you're going to see some really good rugby there. So we know any pool will be tough. From our and we target three games and we have to win two at a minimum to go through to the quarterfinals."

And then what? While the Eagles spent much of the first half of the season winning the Shield, the lowest of the four trophies at any tournament, winning the Shield does require you to win the final two games of the weekend. It's still tough to do, and winning the Shield, rather than licking your wounds and going home, has a benefit, said Hawkins.

Over this season the guys have learned to win on Day Two are discovering that as they learned to win on Day Two," he said. "And I am really proud of the guys and how they handled themselves [in Tokyo]. That game against Samoa, showed what these guys can do, and showed their character. They showed the character of the guys back at the Olympic Training Center."

Hawkins said the team can do better, but he added that he was pretty happy with how things were going, as evidenced by how he didn't change the starting lineup, and how little he used some subs.

But he wants more than just one weekend.

"I viewed our program and what we had – talent, staff, structure, infrastructure – we didn't have that was sustainable and didn't meet the demands of the World Series," said Hawkins. "So that was my job to get there, but unfortunately I didn't have the summer to start that so I was managing that while we started the World Series, and we're starting to see it come through. We've got good players. We've got guys who can play good rugby. They need opportunity to develop that and that's what we tried to create in the Olympic Training Center. You saw the fruits of some of the hard work the guys have been putting in over the last six months. We're developing something that's getting better but is also sustainable and can go the distance."

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