The United States started off about as poorly as a team can in Gold Coast, conceding a 38-0 loss to New Zealand and a 31-5 defeat to Kenya. But they showed some resilience, leveled the win/loss table (3-3) and ultimately took home some hardware by winning the Shield.
Only once before has the United States won a trophy of any kind in the World Series’ opening tournament – they won the Shield over Arabian Gulf in Dubai in 2009. And last season, the Eagles didn’t win three games in one tournament until Japan, the seventh stop on the Series.
“We’re in a better place than we were before, so now we’re just going to build on it,” said player/coach Matt Hawkins after the Shield Final win over Portugal. “We’ve got time now to go back and get ourselves organized, and now some of the new guys know what it’s all about…so it’ll be fun next time.”
Those new guys Hawkins was referring to are Ryan Matyas, Stephen Tomasin and Pat Blair, all of who earned their first caps in Gold Coast. Matyas and Blair saw action in all six games in Australia, and Blair and Tomasin started the last four of the tournament. Matyas dotted down one try and Tomasin two. So, in addition to bagging a few points, banking a few wins, scoring a trophy and improving on last season’s Series opener, the Eagles blooded three brand new players.
They also trotted out a player/coach, the Series’ first since Waisale Serevi did it for Fiji in 2006. Reports leading up to the tournament indicated Hawkins wouldn’t play himself a great deal and that, if he played at all, it wouldn’t be a first resort. Hawkins wound up starting every game in Australia and playing most of each of them. He caught flack for doing so from the tournament broadcasters.
Essentially asked after the Shield Final if he’ll now reconsider being a player/coach, he said, “I’ve got a great staff, and they’re very honest in their opinions, and the same with some of the senior players, so we’ll just keep training, keep doing what we do, and as people come in we’ll just see what we’ve got and what we don’t have and we’ll just sort of look at it from that point.”
The Eagles are off now until Nov. 29 when they kick off in Dubai. Between now and then, a developmental side selected by Hawkins will compete in NACRA 7s Nov. 9-10 in the Cayman Islands and Coral Coast 7s in Fiji Nov. 14-16.