The Runner Sports

HSBC Paris Sevens: Tournament Recap

It was to a sold out crowd at Stade Jean-Bouin that the globe-trotting HSBC Rugby Sevens circuit delivered the second to last tournament of the series. With only one more stop in London May 20-21, Paris represented to the sixteen national teams assembled a final opportunity to rise in ranking. The fifth place USA Eagles were set to continue their improvement after a bronze finish in Singapore but instead it was a lukewarm performance that saw them finish the weekend 4-2 and place fifth in the tournament overall.

Day 1 As It Happened:

USA vs Argentina: 26-19

The first obstacle facing the Americans on day 1 was an Argentinian side made up almost entirely of sprinters. With no shortage of speed, it was Los Pumas who scored first after the Eagles forced a penalty that contributed to the South American’s success. No stranger to the try line, Perry Baker was the next to find his way to score and continued to run excellent support lines all day. After two more scores, the first half ended 14-12 with the Americans only two points ahead. In the second half, the Eagles were finally able to enjoy some consistent possession and a grubber kick from fly-half Folau Niua was collected by chasing Martin Iosefo for an early score. Moments later, Baker again found space to run and sped down the touchline for five points. A final score from Argentina was not enough to lift the team and it was a fortunate Eagles squad that claimed their first victory of the day.

USA vs Wales: 38-14

Next up for the Americans was the 10th-ranked Wales. Again it was their opponents that scored first through Welsh captain Lloyd Evans and with the added conversion, the men in red enjoyed an early seven-point lead. The remainder of the first half would see both sides batter away at each other and Eagle tries to both Baker and Iosefo. Iosefo has already scored 19 tries this season and has been a reliable albeit unsung hero of Mike Friday’s American squad. With the halftime score 14-14, the Eagles again failed to take a decisive hold on the match.

That all changed in the last seven minutes. The second half revealed an American squad to rival the best of the circuit as they scored four unanswered tries through Iosefo, Baker, Maka Unufe, and the debutante from Old Blue of New York, Alex Schwarz. This scoring blitz from the Eagles put the match well out of reach for the Welshmen 38-14.

USA vs New Zealand: 14-27

It was the final match of day 1 that would be America’s biggest test with the 5th place Eagles taking on the 4th place All Blacks. Perry Baker would be the only American to cross the try line and added two more scores to his eight total for the weekend. Despite conceding two tries to New Zealand in the first half, the US only trailed by 3 points by the halftime hooter and a score early in the second half suggested an American rally that never fully materialized. Some weak defense from the American substitutes furnished three late scores to the All Blacks and sealed the fate of the U.S.  The 14-27 defeat of the Americans saw them finish day 1 second in pool play, but still qualified them for a Cup Semifinal spot against England.

Day 2 As It Happened:

USA vs England: 12-26

Unfortunately, it was more of the same for the Eagles as they matched up against the second-ranked English. Baker would again be the only American to score and finished the match with a brace of tries. The English, on the other hand, showed the depth of their squad and carved up the American defense with four tries from as many Englishmen. In a match with only seven-minute halves, possession is key yet proved elusive to the Americans. Against a team like England, mistakes prove costly and an intercepted American pass and some sloppy defense allowed for two second-half English scores and contributed to a final U.S. defeat 12-26.

USA vs Fiji: 24-14

From the second-ranked English to the third-ranked Fijians, the Eagles had ample opportunity for upsets over the weekend. The first half saw some reliable running from the Eagles through captain Madison Hughes and the 22-year-old Californian Stephen Tomasin. After an early Fijian score, the Americans responded with a probing run from Maka Unufe. As a Fijian sweeper loomed up on defense, Unufe delicately popped an inside ball to Hughes who sped off for the score. Likewise, after a yellow card and injury left Fiji with only five able-bodied men on the field, Tomasin found space out wide and showed his versatility as a forward with a late score to end the half. The second half saw more Fijian ill-discipline and the Americans capitalized on a second Fijian yellow card with two scores from forward Ben Pinkleman and Hughes sealing the American victory at 24-14.

USA vs Samoa: 24-19

With their victory over Fiji, the Eagles ended day 2 against the always dangerous Samoa. The Pacific Islanders had finished day 1 undefeated and fresh off a victory over their French hosts were looking to end the tournament on a high note. Despite a yellow card for Perry Baker, the Americans showed solid running in the first half. Tries from Folau Niua, Mike Te’o, and Andrew Durutalo yielded 19 unanswered American points until a late Samoan try ended the half at 19-7. Unufe was next to score for the Americans. The 25-year old is one of the veterans of the squad but has failed to show that his moments of brilliant athleticism can transfer into consistent play for coach Friday. A late rally from Samoa that provided two consecutive scores was not enough to save them from a 24-19 defeat at the hands of the Eagles.

The conclusion of tournament play on Sunday saw the Americans reach a passable 4-2 record and earn 13 series points. With victories over Fiji and Argentina there is definitely much to be satisfied with, but with the final tournament of the sevens series only five days away, they can choose to be satisfied or successful. To regularly contend with teams like England or the All Blacks, the U.S. must not rely on Baker at the expense of developing the other players and instead show the depth of talent they possess.

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