The Runner Sports

USA Rugby Soars In Vancouver Sevens

Day 1 Recap

The United States couldn’t have hoped for a better start to the Canadian segment of the HSBC international sevens circuit. The Eagles presented onlookers with a masterclass of ball retention, strategic substitution, and magnificent heads up play to finish 3-0 with considerable momentum entering Day 2. Arguably the best team in their pool, the Americans avoided the cardinal sin of sevens and committed fully to each game in a sport where upsets abound.

In their first matchup against a Japanese team struggling to gain footing, the Eagles soared to a 26-0 lead at halftime primarily by denying Japan virtually any possession. Winning kickoff after kickoff, American players retained ball-in-hand in the face of a crumbling Japanese defense. The crumbling defense soon became a cascade, as speedster Perry Baker repeatedly found space and punished his opponents with a hat-trick of tries. Likewise, the micro-skills of the team appeared sophisticated as a continuous stream of offloads and individual talent resulted in an Eagles rout of Japan. It was a 52-0 US lead by the time a merciful blast from the referee’s whistle signaled an end to the game.

Next up, America took on a dangerous French team with no shortage of talent or speed. Apparently, Baker’s reputation preceded him and the Frenchmen wasted no time shutting the American threat down. It was into this void that the U.S. showed the true depth of its squad as Eagle center Martin Iosefo broke through some flimsy French defense twice before the end of the half. In the second half, it looked as if the French were mustering for an anti-American offensive in the form of some serious go-forward from playmaker Terry Bouhraoua. The Eagles kept their cool and offered a rebuttal from the try-starved Baker and veteran strongman Andrew Durutalo, who both dotted down in the final minutes. Thus it was with the Aussies on the horizon that the U.S. passed their second test with a 31-19 over the French.

Day 1 would conclude with the Eagles’ stiffest competition yet. The always-fit Australian squad were roughly neck-and-neck with the U.S. in the sevens standings and are in possession of some quality playmakers of their own. The Americans showed no signs of deterrence as they took the field and their resolve became evident in the first few minutes of the match. All day, Danny Barrett had been perched on the wing and with a side-step that would make a matador envious, he directed his bullish frame to absorb defenders and free up the flyer Baker. Barrett would claim a try of his own before the half was over and the Americans prepped for an Australian counterattack that was sure to come. However, it was the Eagles who would double-down on their lead, and following the animated advice of head coach Mike Friday, they “unleash[ed] the fury” in the second half. With an acceleration underestimated by many, Maka “the Closer” Unufe sealed the fate of the Aussies with 2 clutch second half tries. Space finally came to the beleaguered men from down under with a late score, ending the match with a 29-5 United States victory.

Day 2

The second day would not yield the same returns for American efforts, as a sore squad took the field against Argentina. Errors and penalties plagued the Eagles from the beginning and resulted in few scoring opportunities. Argentina capitalized on what appeared to be a temporary American lack of focus with 2 tries in the first half with Baker responding with one of his own. Argentina however, did not show up in the second half, and a determined American offensive saw Barrett cross over for a score and cement an American victory.

The stakes rose once again as America faced the top-ranked South Africa Springboks in the competition’s Cup semi-final. With force of nature Barrett out, the American bench would have to prove reliable against a Springbok side bursting at the seams with talent, size, and speed. The game would turn out to be a match of defenses as both sides struggled to develop anything resembling a threatening offense. Iosefo scored first off some broken play, but South Africa responded in kind and with a converted try, taking a 7-5 lead at halftime. The American’s inability to convert tries would continue to haunt them into the second half. An unconverted Durutalo try was overshadowed by a brilliant display of speed from Springbok Rosko Specman. American hopes were dashed after a beast-mode drive by Durutalo found him in the try zone of South Africa. As Eagles fans bellowed with rage it appeared he was somehow held up by the ever-present South African superhuman Werner Kok. About 6 inches was all that separated USA Rugby from a Cup final glory but Kok superbly positioned himself between the ball and the turf much to the chagrin of Durutalo and company.

Day 2 would conclude with a second bronze medal match in as many weeks for the Americans. In another entertaining match, the Eagles would spar with an impressive Fiji who seemed to have bounced back from an earlier defeat from England. The power and pace of the Olympic gold medalists would not be denied, however, with a 28 – 24 victory over an exhausted Eagles squad. Nevertheless, a proud weekend for Perry Baker who achieved a century of tries in an American uniform and dazzled the crowd not only with his blistering pace but also his considerable arsenal of other skills. The Americans have shown that they can keep their cool against the likes of Fiji and South Africa and have undoubtedly earned their 5th place ranking in what it continuing to be an increasingly competitive international environment.

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