The USA 7s team will have some work to do to win the NACRA 7s. They have struggled at times against Canada – oddly winning in a blowout in one game, but at other times losing heartbreakingly close matches.
Why is that? It’s hard to tell. The Americans seem, in the past couple of years, to make little mistakes at key times. In addition, while the USA team has generally been faster than Canada, they haven’t been as cohesive, or as physical. Power, coupled with desire, can take you a long way, and it works well for Canada.
What Alex Magleby has instilled is a team with a very clear game plan. He clearly wants to dominate possession, something that was an issue a year ago in the USA’s season-opener. That was the Pan-Am Games. The Eagles finished 3rd and got the bronze medal, but could well have been higher had they been able to get the ball in their hands more.
The USA’s strike rate per minute of possession was one of the best in the tournament, if not the best, but they played way too much defense. Magleby will want his opponents to play defense.
“We will need to show a lot of rugby IQ, and a lot of cohesiveness,” said Magleby. “We need players who can run, kick, pass, and defend.”
His player choices make it plain what he wants to do. He has sidestepping playmakers in Shalom Suniula, Tai Enosa, and Luke Hume. He has speed merchants in Rocco Mauer, Maka Unufe, and Carlin Isles. He has forwards who can win ball in the air and, thanks to a little strength work, in tight in Zack Test, and Colin Hawley.
He has role players. Taylor Mokate isn’t interested in glory – he just wants to win rucks and rattle teeth. Jack Halalilo just brings some 7s intelligence. The captain of the EPA Bulldogs, he is a leader, and can play virtually any position on the field. Peter Tiberio is a quick guy who can play scrumhalf and wing. Mike Palefau is a role player, even if he isn’t a marginal one – he’s clearly a star, but a star whose job it is to blast through defenses and make tacklers pay.
Everyone has a job. Magleby’s is to make the right personnel choices.
“You not only need to pick the right starting team, but what’s the right team for the first half, and what’s the right team for the second half?” he explained to RUGBYMag.com. “It’s those combinations that will be important, too. The guys have been doing the work.”
Key for the Eagles is that they have to keep making their tackles, and they have to avoid making unforced errors. And they could stand to take a page from Canada’s book, a page they showed they had read when they won in Glendale – when the chance is there, take it. Hume and Palefau have sent a message with their performances. They may not e the fastest players, but they won’t doubt themselves when they see the tryline.
Sometimes, that’s all you need.