2019 Singapore Sevens Preview
Since its return as a stop on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series in 2016, the Singapore Sevens has been the most unpredictable tournament in the series. In 2016, it was Kenya reaching its third-ever final and hoisting its first and so far only cup title. The next season, it was the United States in its third cup final taking on Canada in only its second. Canada came away with the bragging rights and gold medal that day. Last season, there was a return to normalcy with Fiji in its sixty-ninth final besting Australia for Fiji’s thirty-fifth cup. For those counting, it was Australia’s twenty-first final and would have been the Australians’ eighth cup.
Fans of team USA may have less favorable recollections of those three tournaments. In two of them, the Americans settled for the challenge trophy. In the other, it was a heavily favored Eagles squad having to watch their archrivals celebrate a triumph. With a pool almost identical to the one that gave the United States fits in Hong Kong, the 2019 installment of the Singapore Sevens may yet prove a painful memory. But it could just as easily be the venue where team USA secures Olympic qualification and lays claim to only its fourth cup victory, and second of the season.
The simple fact is that even though the Eagles looked less than stellar in both Hong Kong and Vancouver, there really is no reason to slam the panic button. This will be the third straight tournament with the same thirteen-man lineup. Fortunately, Martin Iosefo’s scratch from the bronze-medal match appears to have not been a major issue. Granted, that means still no Perry Baker or Danny Barrett, though Baker has announced through Instagram that he has now been cleared to return to play after suffering a broken jaw. But the team has done remarkably well in the absence of two of the sport’s best players. In Baker’s absence, the Eagles have won a gold, a silver, and a bronze medal, while notching an additional semifinal showing. Without Barrett, they finished the last two matches to win the USA Sevens over New Zealand and Samoa and upended South Africa in Hong Kong. Simply put, no matter how much they wish they had those two guys on the pitch, they are doing alright in their absence.
That said, there can be no doubt that the last two tournaments stand out like sore thumbs on the season resume. Through the first five tournaments, the team was 24–6, reaching five finals. The Eagles were 5–1 in every tournament except for Dubai, where they finished 4–2. The last two tournaments have been a combined 6–6 with losses in the semis in each.
Let’s not get too confused with recent success; that is still tremendous. The stat I always toss out but says so very much: before Mike Friday became coach, team USA had been to three semifinals ever. Since he has arrived, the team has been to at least three each season. This season, the Americans are seven for seven. No other team has gone to seven semifinals this season. No other team has been to five finals. Fiji is next closest at three.
This weekend will be tough, as the all are. The pool includes England and Wales, both of whom beat the United States in Hong Kong, and swaps out Spain for Kenya. Against those three teams, the Eagles are 8–2 on the season. Both of the losses are from Hong Kong. Team USA will enter as the favorite in each of the matches. And, assuming the Eagles make it ten straight trips to the quarterfinals, the path to an eighth straight semifinal is promising.
Pool B is headed by France, which has somehow claimed the silver in the last two tournaments after finishing dead last in Vegas. The French are clearly red hot, but are due for a reality check. Still, the Eagles need to eye grabbing the top seed in Pool C to allow someone else to prove that recent history is an aberration for the French. If France claims the top spot in Pool B, then the second seed will almost certainly be Argentina or Australia. Both are difficult teams—Argentina gave team USA its lone loss in Vegas—but both are favorable pairings for the United States.
Of further note, at forty points ahead of fifth-place England in the season standing, team USA needs only claim three ranking points more than England in Singapore to secure Olympic qualification.
The matches begin with pool play on Saturday (4/13) and finish with the knock-out action the following day. Check back for complete coverage.