Canada 7s Preview
With a fifth straight finals appearance and second straight USA Sevens title under their belts, the Eagles of team USA head north to Vancouver for the 2019 Canada Sevens. The United States now sits alone atop the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series standings, an impressive five points clear of New Zealand at second. At the midway point of the year, if the Eagles can match on the back half of the season what they’ve done in the first, they will push for the right to be only the fifth nation to ever claim the series title.
In its twentieth season, the World Rugby Sevens Series has been dominated by three nations: New Zealand, Fiji, and South Africa. Those three nations have finished first overall in all but one season. The lone outlier was Samoa wearing the overall competition crown at the close of the 2009–10 season. New Zealand has been the overall champion one dozen times. Fiji and South Africa have matched the accomplishment three times each.
After winning the first six series titles, New Zealand finally ceded the spot to Fiji in 2005–06. After the single blip, The All Blacks Sevens won six of the next eight titles, losing out to South Africa and Samoa in consecutive seasons. The last four years have been controlled by Fiji and South Africa, each finishing at the top twice. For team USA to be in the mix is a remarkable accomplishment for a nation that has never finished higher than fifth.
A point I made early in the year when reaching the finals became commonplace for the Americans, is that no nation has won the series with fewer than two cup victories. New Zealand has done it three times and South Africa once. Notably, each time New Zealand accomplished the feat with just two cup victories were seasons with fewer than ten tournaments. Last season, the Blitzbokke managed the title with just two cups despite Fiji winning five. The key to South Africa’s success was consistency. The team never once missed the semifinals and only twice failed to register a podium finish.
The five straight finals put team USA in rarified air only breathed before by New Zealand, South Africa, and Fiji. The record for most consecutive finals stands at nine, achieved by Fiji in the first nine tournaments ever contested on the series stretching from Dubai 1999 through Tokyo 2000. South Africa’s eight consecutive finals from London 2016 to Hong Kong 2017 sits at second. Thrice New Zealand has reached seven finals in a row (Kuala Lumpur 2001 – Santiago 2002; Beijing 2002 – Dubai 2002; and London 2007 – Hong Kong 2008 (winning 7 cups)). Fiji has also made a run of seven straight from Paris 2005 through Singapore 2006. The run of five finals ties the 2018–19 Eagles with New Zealand from Hong Kong 2000 through Dubai 2000 and South Africa from Dubai 2013 through Tokyo 2014 as the seventh longest streak at five tournaments.
If the Americans are to continue to push to unseat the 1999–00 Fijians at the top of the list, they will need to progress out of a complicated Pool A in Vancouver. Drawn alongside the Eagles are South Africa, Chile, and Wales. The 2009 World Cup Sevens champion Wales has struggled mightily this season. A single victory over Japan in the thirteenth-place semifinal was the lone victory for the Welsh and the only thing that separates them from the relegation spot on the series table. The in-form Eagles will expect a comfortable victory over Wales to start their bid for a sixth consecutive final. In their last two meetings, team USA has dominated winning 47–5 last season in Hong Kong and 33–12 earlier this season in Dubai.
Chile may prove a more difficult obstacle. As the non-core invitee, even claiming the third spot in the pool is a notable accomplishment. But Chile’s run to the trophy semifinal in Vegas was marked with two big matches. The second was the trophy quarterfinal victory over France, paving the road for a last-place finish for France. The other was a dramatic 5–5 draw against South Africa. But Chile also posted a devastating defeat to Japan (19–7) to close pool play when a victory would have kept alive a possible cup quarterfinal appearance. The Eagles have not played Chile since the Silicon Valley Sevens in 2017, winning 29–14. The teams have met twice on the World Rugby Sevens Series, with team USA dominating both contests: 31–0 at 2017 USA Sevens; 40–12 at 2008 USA Sevens. And the United States prevailed in both matches against Chile in the 2011 (14–7) and 2015 Pan Am Games (26–7). History and form are on the side of the North Americans.
If the Eagles can see off both Wales and Chile, it will likely set up a pool decider against South Africa. Despite the Blitzbokke dominating the all-time and recent series against the United States, the most recent result shows that the Americans will likely enter as the favorite. In their only meeting this year, team USA dropped jaws by cruising to a 29–10 win over South Africa in the Vegas quarterfinals.
Should the United States finish atop Pool A, the road to the final will likely go through either England or Argentina. Team USA is 3–0 against England this season and 1–1 against Argentina, following the heartbreaking defeat in Vegas pool play (26–24). Advancing to the semifinal may well produce a fourth tango with New Zealand in a semifinal this season. Having won three of six against New Zealand on the year, it merits note that all three wins have come in semifinal meetings and all three losses have come either in pool play or finals. Navigate that treacherous path and the Eagles will make it six in a row.
They will have to do it without big Danny Barrett who suffered a fractured thumb in Vegas. Even without the versatile playmaker, the Eagles were able to defeat Samoa in the USA Sevens final. His absence is huge, but the team should have sufficient depth to absorb the blow. Filling in Barrett’s spot on the twelve-man squad is Joe Schroeder who returns to the Eagles shirt for the first time since suffering his own injury in last year’s USA Sevens tournament. The rest of the roster, including the four dream team players from Vegas (Martin Iosefo, Carlin Isles, Ben Pinkelman, and Stephen Tomasin) remains the same from Vegas. Ben Broselle, who won his first cap last week as a late sub in the final against Samoa, returns to the thirteen shirt after sliding into the twelve-man squad for the last two matches in Vegas to replace Barrett.
The tournament kicks off Saturday (March 9th) and concludes the following day. Catch every second of the action on ESPN+.