The Runner Sports

Despite Lukewarm Performance, US Eagles Survive Pool Play In Hong Kong

While USA Rugby endured pool play at the HSBC sevens tournament this weekend, their performance left much to be desired by head coach Mike Friday. The Hong Kong leg of the series featured talented teams but few actual threats in pool D, and the US outranked all opponents in their opening matches. This is no way ensures victory, however, the American attack appeared distinctly lukewarm considering their current standing and the level of play they have shown in recent tournaments.

Russia vs USA

In their first match, it was the kits and not the rugby execution that turned the most heads for the Eagles. Even this interest was soon lost as repeated handling errors by the men in white gave the Russians renewed hope. The American’s opponent took advantage of these early mistakes and maintained consistent possession as they strung together phase after phase and gathered momentum in the form of some endeavoring runs. After realizing the Russians would not go down quietly, the Eagles decided to show up and scored two tries before the referee’s whistle signaled an end to the first half. One of the more conspicuous players on the field, Folau Niua, used his reliable dummy pass to penetrate the Russian defense and score. Likewise, sevens sensation Perry Baker displayed his speed as he turned the corner on a hapless Russian defender and streaked down the edge of the pitch to touch down. This momentary flash of brilliance was to be short-lived however as Russia showed tenacity and dominated possession again in the second half. It was a late Russian try that resulted in the Americans claiming a 14-7 victory over the Russians by the skin of their teeth.

Scotland vs USA

Those waiting for the sleeping American gaints to awake appeared to have their wishes answered as a spirited US side took control of the first half against Scotland. Baker again showed his strength and speed through two long-range tries and a confined score after an assist from American forward Ben Pinkleman. The commentators even admitted, as does this writer, there are not enough superlatives to describe the threat that is Baker. He would be easy to write off as a one hit wonder if speed was his only asset. However, luckily for coach Friday, the other skills that make up a well-rounded rugby player such as offloading and tackling, are quickly becoming his.

The powerful American offensive came to a sputtering halt in the second half as turnovers gave the Scotsmen renewed hope in victory. Substitute Maka Unufe had particular difficulty controlling the ball and his errors contributed to a quick two-tries from Scotland. Admittedly, these errors are uncharacteristic of Unufe, who by and large remains an impact player used to great effect. With the Scottish knocking on the door of the American try line, it was some desperate defense by the Eagles that preserved American integrity and ensured the 19-14 victory over their opponents.

Argentina vs USA

Pool play concluded with a predictably entertaining match against Los Pumas of Argentina. The Pumas had likewise beaten both Russia and Scotland earlier, and exhibited an exciting squad of Southern Hemisphere speed and talent. The US and Argentinian players took turns trading tries as the first half wore on. Argentina scored first but the Eagles answered back with two tries of their own from fifteens crossover Mike Te’o and the clever play of Folau Niua. The trickle of American tries in the first half turned into a deluge in the second, as the Argentinian resolve disintegrated. Despite continued errors from Unufe, who was struggling with his own demons along with Los Pumas, Baker, Matai Leuta, and Mike Te’o all touched down providing the critical effort to extinguish Argentinian hopes at a late comeback from the 33-5 deficit.

Although it took two close matches for the Americans to show up, they survived pool play in Hong Kong. Only time will tell if Mike Friday’s prediction proves true and the Eagles did indeed “use up this week and next week’s [luck].” As Friday would undoubtedly agree, it will take a lot more than luck to take down an imposing English side in tomorrow’s Cup Quarterfinal.

Eric Sweigert

Eric Sweigert

Currently a teacher-athlete up in Northern California, I was first introduced to rugby in college (go Aggies) and haven't looked back. Nowadays you can find me teaching American History and writing about a sport that provided many good memories and more than enough stitches.
Eric Sweigert