The Eagles’ sure-to-be famous win over Spain was a full-team effort. Blaine Scully made a try-saving tackle, Zack Test sacrificed his body to win a restart. Nick Edwards was fantastic off the bench, scoring one try and setting up another.
But the two standouts were Folau Niua and Carlin Isles. The latter has his face plastered on the USA Sevens event programs but has been struggling to get playing time as of late. In his second start in three tournaments, Isles scored two-long range tries to keep the Eagles’ Cup hopes alive.
“I feel good. I’m so happy I got the opportunity to start,” said Isles. “It’s a blessing. I just wanted to show coach, you start me, this is what I’m going to do.”
Both of his scores came in ways we’re not used to seeing Isles score.
The first one originated off of a breakdown in the middle of the field, where Isles took an inside pass through the gut of the defense. Usually we see him skinning someone on the outside after some wide passes.
“It was just a conscious decision,” said Isles of starting his run between the hashmarks. “I’m always in the middle, and I knew I had some space outside where I kind of went with my gut and I let God get me through.”
His second try came from the base of a ruck. Isles saw that a Spanish defender was being tended to by a trainer on the weakside of the field, and he picked and went that way and dotted down again.
Folau’s heroic act was nailing a conversion at the death to give the Eagles the 15-point spread it needed to get into the Cup rounds. If Niua missed, the Eagles would have been relegated to the Bowl Quarterfinals based on point differential.
“We knew we needed the points, we needed that try and that kick,” Niua said.
The Eagles led 10-7 and could have done enough to run down the clock, but that would not have been enough. Understanding the urgency of the situation, they knew they had to score at least 11 more points to break into the Cup Round. So when Nick Edwards busted through some Spanish tacklers and then lofted an audacious pass inside to Shalom Suniula for the game-clinching try, the Americans new they had more to do.
Somehow they got the ball back and sent it wide to Edward, who did his best to round near the posts but in the end left Niua a tough conversion.
Niua hit it, but didn’t say anything about it.
“I am just so proud of the boys and how hard they worked,” he said. “We knew we had to spread the ball and we did.”
And in the process gave the USA program a huge boost. All smiles around a packed Sam Boyd Stadium, and maybe a few sighs of relief also.