The Runner Sports

Eagles Poised For Strong Finish In HSBC Rugby Sevens Series

It’s hard not to root for the underdog. The good news for the United States team is that this is familiar territory in rugby. With only two tournaments left in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, the Americans are poised to occupy the hallowed heights of the top four positions in the series; currently occupied by South Africa, Fiji, England, and New Zealand. Thus the stage is set May 13-14 at the Stade Jean-Bouin in Paris for some high stakes rugby action.

Currently, America sits in fifth place in a series of fifteen competitive national teams ranging from South Africa to Japan. Finishing with a silver medal in the Singapore tournament, the Eagles have been riding the crest of an upward swell that has seen them reach third and fourth place finishes in Las Vegas, Vancouver, and Hong Kong. In an interview given to USA Rugby, Eagles coach Mike Friday declared that “our aim in these next twelve games [Paris, London] is to try and break into the top four by the end of the season.” Suffice it to say the Eagles have their work cut out for them with the current rung up the sevens ladder occupied by none other than the perennial rugby juggernaut, the New Zealand All Blacks. Known for their well-oiled rugby development programs and freakish individual skills, New Zealand rugby is to their opponents what John Wayne is to Western outlaws. Those anticipating this showdown with baited breath won’t have to wait long, as New Zealand and the US will meet in pool play on Day 1 of the Paris Sevens. The U.S. will likewise have to face Argentina and Wales if they are to successfully graduate to Cup Quarterfinals in the City of Lights.

As Paris draws near, the Eagles will not lack the assets needed for such feats. Currently, the Series’ top try scorer with 41, Perry Baker, is the American flyer whose lengthy stride eats up the pitch. Arguably the most dangerous player of the competition, teams have been unable to find a remedy for his skill set and have instead adopted a strategy of simply enduring him.

With the void left by injured Danny Barrett, Friday is left a bit vulnerable in the forward pack. Ben Pinkleman and Matai Leuta have both earned their stripes on the circuit but will need to show that Barrett isn’t the only Eagle capable of reducing defenders into mere speed bumps.

Two Eagles debuting this weekend include Alex Schwarz of Old Blue of New York,  and the youngster Naima Fualaau. Both will be looking to lend their efforts to an Eagles squad already bursting with potential.

Only time will tell to see if this potential is realized. Even with Barrett out, Friday’s traveling squad to Paris can easily contend with the likes of New Zealand and South Africa. If you, like many, find yourself falling asleep watching baseball or frustrated at the flamboyance of American football personalities, tune into the HSBC Paris Sevens tournament this weekend. Kickoff will be at 3:00 am ET and you can live stream the event at the World Rugby Sevens website.

Paris/London Roster: Ben Pinkleman, Don Pati, Matai Leuta, Mike Te’o, Andrew Durutalo, Folau Niua, Maka Unufe, Stephen Tomasin, Madison Hughes, Perry Baker, Martin Iosefo, Alex Schwarz, Naima Fualaau.

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