2019 USA Sevens Rugby | 2019 Hong Kong 7s Preview | Hong Kong Sevens
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2019 Hong Kong 7s Preview

With just four tournaments left, team USA’s thirty-three-point lead over fifth-place England has given the Eagles an excellent shot at securing 2020 Olympic qualification by way of their HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series finish. Unquestionably, the primary goal of the season is to claim a spot in Tokyo for next summer. But, with such an impressive lead over fifth-place, the attention of the Americans turns now to whether the Eagles can close the season in first place, having edged seven points in front of New Zealand to lead the series.

Prior to Vancouver, team USA had reached the final of all five tournaments from Dubai to Las Vegas, winning the contest on home soil. But a semifinal contest in Canada led to the team missing the podium for the first time this season. If the Eagles are to do what was once unthinkable—win the series title—they will almost certainly need at least one more cup victory along the way. Thrice the series champion has won just two tournaments (2002–03, 2012–13 & 2017–18); never has a team finished on top with just one. A win in Hong Kong would not only mark the first for team USA at the most historic sevens tournament of them all, it would etch the Eagles into the category of unquestionable contenders for gold next summer.

Despite missing out on a medal in Vancouver, the Eagles did make it six straight trips to the semifinals. As such, team USA enters Hong Kong as the top seed in Pool D. The draw is tough but certainly manageable. The Americans will start with Spain, a side they have already defeated seven times in the last two seasons. Nevertheless, Spain is a tricky team that has twice reached the cup round this season. Still, with a combined score in their three matches this season favoring the United States 105–37, the Eagles are expected to start with a win.

Next up will be Wales. The 2009 World Cup Sevens Champions are now just four points ahead of Japan in the race to avoid relegation. Although Wales, like Spain, can be a tough opponent to put away, it would be a major upset for team USA to not come away with two strong wins to get things going. Team USA is on a four-match win streak over Wales—three wins in the series and one in the 2018 Rugby World Cup Sevens—and none of those contests have been close (47–5, 35–0, 33–12 & 40–14). Based upon the draw, wins over Wales and Spain are likely enough to advance to the quarterfinal.

That should set up a pool decider with England to close Day 2. Over the last two seasons, the Eagles boast a surprising 6–1–1 record against England in series play. An extra American loss can be added to the balance sheet when considering the 2018 World Cup Sevens quarterfinal contest. Despite the dominance in results, the contests have been razor-thin margins. In the four victories this season, the United States have claimed victory with scores of 19–12, 19–7, 14–7, and 21–19. The matches are never easy and it is near impossible to win five in a row against a good opponent.

The difference between topping Pool D and sneaking in as the second seed can be monumental. Pool A is comprised of South Africa, Samoa, Scotland, and Japan. As the champion from Vancouver, South Africa is currently the team to beat and will likely to Pool A. That leaves Samoa or Scotland the likely two seed. Team USA is 3–0 against those two sides this season but only 1–1 against South Africa, including a 19–7 loss in their last contest. To keep cruising in first place, the Eagles must keep making semifinals and the best path to that goal is to avoid South Africa along the way.

As is often the case due to the various other contests going on in Hong Kong and the ability to get players in the sevens program some additional experience even if they are not in the match-day lineup, team USA has travelled with an expanded fifteen-man squad made up of Pat Blair, Ben Broselle, Maceo Brown, Madison Hughes, Martin Iosefo, Carlin Isles, Matai Leuta, Cody Melphy, Folau Niua, Ben Pinkelman, Joe Schroeder, Brett Thompson, Stephen Tomasin, Marcus Tupuola, and Kevon Williams. Notably missing due to continued injury are Perry Baker and Danny Barrett. It marks the second straight without Barrett, who was injured in Vegas, and fourth without Baker, who suffered a broken jaw in New Zealand.

With the final squad to be announced, most of the squad can be easily predicted. Hughes, Iosefo, Isles, Leuta, Niua, Pinkelman, Tomasin, and Williams are undoubtedly in the lineup. Thompson and Brown, who have been in every tournament squad this season, are pretty safe bets as well. The final two active spots and one reserve will be some combination of Blair, Broselle, Melphy, Schroeder, and Tupuola. Tupuola’s two-try effort in Vancouver and inclusion in both Vegas and Vancouver give him an inside track. Similarly, that Schroeder got the nod to fill in for Barrett in Vancouver makes him a likely inclusion. Borselle was the thirteenth man in both of the last two tournaments and may remain in that spot for Hong Kong. Both Blair and Melphy could easily slide into the squad based on recent form but were both last in action for the Falcons in the LVI.

Also occurring in Hong Kong is the series qualifying competition. It is a tough field but the definite favorites are Ireland, Chile, and Russia. Fans from the 2017 Silicon Valley Sevens will recall seeing how good Ireland can be on the international stage. The Irish remain the only non-core invitee under the modern format to medal, having claimed the bronze last year in London. But those who attended the 2019 USA Sevens have seen just how good Chile can be. The Chileans pushed team USA in Vancouver and battled South Africa to a draw in Las Vegas. As for Russia, the nation is just one year removed from competing on the series but proved unworthy of that spot a year ago with six last-place finishes and four challenge trophy semifinal losses. Still, Russia has won its way into qualification before at the 2015 Hong Kong Sevens, a feat neither Ireland nor Chile has yet matched.

The action gets under way on Friday, April 5th and concludes Sunday. Check back for coverage of what happened.

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