The Runner Sports

USA Rugby Claw Their Way To Third Place Finish At Las Vegas 7s

There are few things that hurt as badly as the day after a sevens tournament. The body, after receiving blunt force trauma for the better part of a weekend, feels as if you were mistaken for the piñata at a party filled with bat-wielding preschoolers. Undoubtedly, there are quite a few sore bodies in the USA Rugby sevens squad today, but they may rest easy knowing they performed admirably in their home leg of the HSBC sevens series in Las Vegas, Nevada. Finishing the weekend with four wins and two losses, the Eagles gained 17 series points leaving them tied with Australia for 5th place in overall series standing.

USA v. Samoa

The first test of US resolve came in the form of a spirited Samoan side. Both teams delivered some crunching blows in the early minutes but the American defense proved too much for a lackluster Samoan attack. Whatever defensive drills head coach Mike Friday is putting them through at Chula Vista seems to be working, as the onrushing Americans always seemed to have multiple men around the ball with very few missed tackles.

The American offense was dominated by former Cal Bears star Danny Barrett. Ending the game with 3 tries, Barrett often required multiple defenders to bring him down and broke the gain line with ease. Friday’s men also played a hurry-up offense that kept the Samoans on the ropes and it was a combination of great defense and a relentless American attack that resulted in the 26-5 Eagles victory.

USA v. Chile

The Americans kept their momentum going with a 31-0 romping of an inexperienced Chilean side in their second game of the tournament. First on the scoresheet was the American favorite Martin Iosefo, when a nifty pickup of a loose ball allowed him to surge forward across the tryline for the first 5 points. It seemed Iosefo would not be outdone by his teammates, who made their impact felt with an additional 3 tries after he dotted down a second time.

At first, the Chilean defense held and the South American team showed some offensive brilliance but soon the fitness difference between the two teams made its appearance and after that, the American playmakers went to work. Captain Madison Hughes lent his talent to some beautiful plays showing a neat side step and when the American offense appeared to stall, a Hughes cross kick resulted in a score from Barrett in the opposite corner. With their biggest opponent in pool play still to come, the American squad started their home tournament in excellent form going into their third test 2-0.

USA v. England

True to form, the clash between the Americans and our cousins across the pond proved an exhibition of the considerable talent and depth offered by both teams. As American fans watched in elation, followed quickly by horror, the Eagles squandered a 17-5 halftime lead in the face of a late English offensive in the final four minutes.

Friday’s men made a daring start to the match with some endeavoring runs by Iosefo and Baker. The only reply from the English came in the form of the individual brilliance of flyer Dan Norton, who collected a chip kick of his own devising and sprinted forward towards the American try line.

An American win seemed imminent as Ben Pinkleman surged forward to score in the 13th minute, but in the trademark fashion of well-developed rugby squads, the English kept their cool and mounted a series of quick scores that stunned the home team and left their supporters speechless. This slight loss of concentration was all it took to let a great team like England capitalize on the mistake and resulted in the Eagles 24-17 loss.

USA v. Argentina 

Luckily, the loss to England did not restrict the Eagles from Cup contention. With their egos slightly bruised, Hughes led his team onto the field against an athletic Argentinian team. The first half was dominated entirely by Los Pumas, whose fast-paced approach left the American defenders grasping at air where an Argentinian player had been only moments before. Circumstances looked grim for the Americans who trailed 12-0 at halftime. The second half looked to be more of the same until the Eagles bench showed up with two tries coming from utility back Maka Unufe. The comeback was complete when Perry Baker found some space between the Argentinian defenders and touched down in the try zone putting the US ahead 21-19 and sending them to a Cup semifinal against a formidable South African team.

Circumstances looked grim for the Americans who trailed 12-0 at halftime.

The second half looked to be more of the same until the Eagles bench showed up with two tries coming from utility back Maka Unufe. The comeback was complete when Perry Baker found some space between the Argentinian defenders and touched down in the try zone putting the US ahead 21-19 and sending them to a Cup semi-final against a formidable South African team.

USA v. South Africa

As evident in the billowing fro of playmaker Folau Niua and the oscillating uprights, the high desert wind was indeed a factor on Day 3 of the Vegas sevens tournament. The US faced off against the Springboks of South Africa and despite sporting a few bruises from the day before, the Americans showed no sign of halting the stellar play they began against Argentina. The men from South Africa would not give in, however, and the match remained close with a 10-12 score at halftime and the locals ahead by only two points.

Even with the rousing words offered by coach Friday to his troops, the second half continued yielding favor to South Africa. Similar to the performance against England on Day 2, it was some sloppy play in the American defense that was all it took for the well-oiled machine that is Springbok rugby to score twice before the final whistle, putting them up 20-17 and sending the Eagles to a 3rd place match against rugby giant New Zealand.

USA v. New Zealand

A Cup final notwithstanding, the onlookers packed into the Sam Boyd Stadium couldn’t have asked for a better matchup for the home squad than against the thundering Southern Hemisphere juggernaut that is All Black rugby. Concerning talent, both teams were equally matched with the speed of Tim Mikkleson matched with that of Perry Baker and the grit of DJ Forbes with Andrew Duratalo or Pinkleman.

As the players matched up, so did the game, with the lead bouncing back and forth as both squads traded blows like two old heavyweights aiming for a shot at the title. Unufe opened the scoring for the Eagles with a ducking and diving score right through the All Black defense. The men in black would not go quietly, however, and a score from New Zealand veteran DJ Forbes put them within two points of the Americans.

This back and forth between the squads would continue into the second half with the Eagles getting the last word in the form of a game-winning try from forward Duratalo with time having run out. This score elevated the Americans to a 19-15 victory over the All Blacks and secured their 3rd place finish in the tournament.

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