The USA is into the Shield Final after beating Uruguay 28-14 Sunday morning at the USA 7s in Las Vegas.
The big news of the game was that Head Coach Matt Hawkins started Carlin Isles at wing, mirroring the experience of his coaching predecessor Alex Magleby, who realized in Vegas that not starting Isles wasn’t getting the team tries or victories.
Uruguay won the ball early and kept probing at the USA defense, which held reasonably well. But a kick through by Los Teros gave the ball away and the Americans were able to work their new offensive mix. Isles didn’t really get any ball in space, but he was a factor nonetheless. Folau Niua took a pass from Zack Test and was hoping to offload to Isles, but the speedy winger was tackled before the pass could be made. Everyone hit the deck and Test, following his pass, took the ball from Niua and raced in for the opening try.
Off the restart Uruguay took off down the sideline, but a fantastic cover tackle from Pono Haitsuka stopped that run just short of the tryline.
Niua then kicked long for Isles, who overran the ball, but the Americans there in enough force to force a penalty, and from there it was simply hands out from Niua to Andrew Durutalo to Brett Thompson and in at the corner.
Uruguay came back thanks to a series of penalties and just pummeling ahead into contact, making it 14-7 at halftime.
Isles stayed in the game for the second half and showed he can handle a longer game. After a very long period of USA defense, Test thumped his man to the ground, forcing a penalty. A quick tap and a pass to Isles saw the wing angle to the outside, beat two men, and score from 80 meters out. That made it 21-7, but then a scary moment as Stephen Tomasin went down with an injury. He was escorted off the field and Danny Barrett took his place.
Uruguay scored soon thereafter thanks to some penalties and a couple of good offloads. But Barrett made an impact as he got the team out of danger with a kick ahead and tackle. The USA defense put pressure on Uruguay from there and forced a loose pass that Test happily gathered to score and finish the game 28-14.
The USA addressed several issued with this game, even if the opposition wasn’t the toughest. They made simpler decisions – catch and pass rather and catch and juke and think and pass. They used Isles for longer periods, and put him in different places on the field, and eschewed a fancy penalty play for the simple idea that if you give the ball to Isles, he has about ten meters of space to beat defenders, and that’s often enough.
Shalom Suniula was hugely influential in the second half, making a couple of nifty plays in his own 22 to keep the USA out of trouble, while Thompson is challenging Test for best player on the team.
And Hawkins mixed up his lineup, opting for three big guys, three small steppers, and one in the middle (Tomasin), rather than a size-heavy team that lacked burner pace.
The USA will face Spain the Shield Final 12:45pm Pacific Time.
Tries: Test 2, Thompson, Isles
Convs: Niua 2, Suniula 2
Tries: Cuello, de Freitas
Convs: Gibernau 2