The Runner Sports

Singapore Sevens: Day 2 Recap

Starting the weekend 2-1, USA Rugby survived pool play and looked to improve their performance against a determined looking Fijian squad in the quarterfinals of the HSBC Sevens Series. The Singapore stopover of the international series saw the Eagles finish with the most tries, the most points scored, the most successful conversions, and a Cup final appearance for the men in white and blue.

Fiji vs USA

The matchup of the second and fifth ranked teams in the series promised some high-quality rugby on both sides. Fiji boasts a squad of playmakers whose handling skills and support lines have become the stuff of legends and provide much material for the Youtube highlight reels. America, on the other hand, lacks the consistent track record of the Fijians and seeks to establish itself as a top-tier sevens nation.

The Eagles struck first through some extremely patient play. Swinging the ball from one side of the pitch to the other, the American runners kept probing for a weak spot in the Fijian defense until a no-look pass from Stephen Tomasin set up Ben Pinkleman in the corner for five points. The Fijians kept their composure and after some equally patient defense struck back after an American fumble was collected and Waisea Nacuqu sprinted away to level the score 5-5. But again, the Americans were in no rush to score and managed the ball well finally finding the try zone through Tomasin to put them up 12-5 at the halftime hooter.

If you don’t give your opponents the ball, they can’t score. This seemed to be American coach Mike Friday’s strategy for the remainder of the match and with less than four minutes to go, the United States had completed 55 passes to the 1 by Fiji. That coupled with the fact that the US had 0 recorded tackles confirms the scarcity of ball control by Fiji. The Eagles continued their monopoly of possession in the second half yielding little to the men in white. Despite two late tries in the final minute by an exasperated Fijian side, it was the Eagles who would claim the upset and their first victory on Day 2, 24-19.

Australia vs USA

If the Americans were sore in the second match, they didn’t show it, and appeared a team possessed in their 40-7 thrashing of Australia. Despite conceding an early try, the Eagles wasted no time rallying with Perry Baker leaving defenders in the dust for a trademark run down the touchline and score. Tomasin, who finished the weekend with eight tries of his own, was next on the American scoresheet. Although relatively unheralded, Tomasin proved his mettle all weekend with some solid defense and scored twice against the Australians. With 20 seconds left in the first half, American efforts again delivered results as a strong right step and finish from reliable Martin Iosefo put the US up 21-7 at halftime. In sevens, however, this by no means a victory secured, and the guidance of coach Friday in the huddle kept the US braced for an Australian counterattack.

The counterattack, however, never materialized as the Eagles maintained possession well. You could almost feel the collective sigh from the hapless Australians as American forward Danny Barrett broke free on a rampaging run that saw him run over defenders like Marshawn Lynch on his way to a score. It was clear the sizable Californian was fired up, and his leadership and experience will be important assets if coach Friday truly wants to make American sevens great again. The despondent Aussies never had the opportunity to recover from their halftime deficit, and three American tries in the second half extended the American lead to 40-7 and sent the Eagles to their third ever Cup final appearance.

Canada vs USA

The Cup final of the Singapore Sevens featured none of the usual suspects of rugby countries with the US facing off against an impressive Canadian squad. The men in red seemed determined to give the US a taste of their own medicine, and maintained strong ball retention for much of the first half. The scoring opened after some weak tackling from the Eagles furnished a score to Matt Mullins in the first minute. Less than two minutes later, Canada scored again through Harry Jones after some inspired running put the young man through some feeble American defense. An additional score saw the Canadians pulling away with three tries to none until the final minute proffered scores to both Baker and Tomasin, contributing to only a seven-point deficit.

The second half opened just as the Americans hoped as Baker scored his eighth try for the weekend. The young American received an early pass from his fly-half with room to run then preceded to dissect the Canadian defense with the skill of a surgeon’s scalpel and left his opponents grasping at air. The North American teams continued to batter away at each other until an elated Lucas Hammond encountered a gap in the American defense and scored the game-winning try with one minute left. A late American rally never appeared and as the clock wound down, Canada kicked the ball out sealing the fate for the Eagles with a 19-26 loss. Congratulations to Canada for the first ever tournament gold medal and the men in red certainly have reason to celebrate.

With a considerable upset over Fiji, the Americans have plenty of positives to celebrate about their weekend performance. Although judging by the faces of the Americans posing for the photo shoot after the Cup final, Friday’s men will not be satisfied with their loses to New Zealand and their neighbors to the North. The 4-2 finish to the weekend shows how far the program has come but the young Eagles must double down on their performance until Cup final appearances become the rule, not the exception.

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