After a strong showing in pool play, topping their pool, the Eagles suffered a shocking defeat to non-core invitee Ireland in the quarterfinals of the London Sevens ahead of a victory over rival Canada in the fifth-place semifinal and eventual resounding defeat to New Zealand in the fifth-place final to finish sixth. It was a strong showing for team USA but not what the Americans had hoped for in results.
The squad remains largely the same as that which competed in London. Fortunately a concussion scare for Carlin Isles in the fifth-place match against New Zealand has ended with him still in the squad for Paris. Isles continued his blistering pace in London, scoring eight tries to push himself to the top of the season try-scoring list at 43. It is an even more impressive accomplishment when you realize that he only combined for six tries in the Sydney, Hamilton, and Las Vegas. Since then, six tries is the fewest he’s scored in any tournament, with six in Vancouver, seven in Hon Kong, and eight each in Singapore and London. In the absence of Perry Baker, Isles has been invaluable, even though other players have definitely stepped up.
Perhaps most notable among those who have surpassed even lofty expectations this season are Martin Iosefo and Kevon Williams. Heading into the Season, Williams was far from a household name among Eagles fans. But he has burst onto the scene with thirteen tries on the season, seven in the last two tournaments. Iosefo, a man who was in the Olympic travelling squad but only entered the main squad due to injury to Perry Baker, has been an absolute machine for team USA, this year. There was never a doubt that Iosefo had tremendous talent, but he has brought his game to new heights this season and posted twenty tries in the process, narrowly edging out his nineteen-try haul last season.
Matai Leuta, however, whose ankle injury on Day 1 of the London Sevens opened the door for Faitala Talapusi to come into the lineup from the thirteenth spot, has headed home to recover. As a man who had featured in every tournament stop of the year, his recovery will be important in deciding the fate of team USA’s World Cup run this summer. With Talapusi now in the twelve-man squad, the Eagles have flown out Alex Schwarz to be the thirteenth man. If an injury brings him into the lineup, it will be Schwarz’s first cap since appearing in both the Paris and London legs of last year’s series.
After London, team USA has put some distance between it and Kenya, who had been tied with the United States for fifth in the season standings. Unfortunately, while Kenya has slid to four points back, England has climbed to within two. With a thirteen-point gap between fifth-place USA and fourth-place Australia, it would take a remarkable turn of events for the United States to reach fourth. As long as Australia reaches the cup round, there is no catching it. It is also impossible to reach third-place New Zealand (133) who can neither be caught from behind nor catch Fiji (167) and South Africa (160) at the top of the board.
Team USA has a tough pool but one with teams the United States knows quite well. Despite England finishing fourth in London, also falling victim to the Irish, the United States will expect a win. Having met in pool play last week, the Americans came away winners (31–14). The Eagles have taken 2 of 3 from the England this year.
Similarly, France is a team the United States easily defeated just last week (38–14). Although wins over the French are never easy, especially on home soil, this has been a subpar French squad all season long. France has only reached a cup round once, and has finished last three times, including the last two tournaments, and three of the last four. Four challenge trophy wins on the year show that France can be a tough out, but it is a match that would be a shocking loss for the United States, barring serious injuries.
And the third team in the pool is one that the United States cannot stop playing. The Eagles have played Canada six times and New Zealand five, this year. But neither holds the top spot for most contests. That honor goes to Argentina at eight down and at least one more to go. The year started with team USA losing three straight to Argentina in the first three tournaments, despite having won all five meetings last season. But the North Americans turned things around in the next three matches, winning each. In that run was the USA Sevens final in Las Vegas. The teams have split the last two meetings, with the United States the most recent victor in Singapore. After two finals and a bronze medal, earlier in the year, Argentina has slipped to very poor showings in the last two tournaments, leaving the United States primed to top the pool.
If the United States can advance out of Pool D, it will almost certainly face Fiji or New Zealand in the quarterfinal, which will be a tough contest that the Eagles will not be favored in. A victory over either opponent would be a great step toward trying to win their second cup of the season. Notably, team USA was the last side to beat Fiji in the cup round, this season, and only team to do so in the last six tournaments.
Like a handful of stops on the Series, Paris sees the women’s series alongside the men’s. The Americans enter the final leg of their series in a surprising tie with Canada for fourth place, just one point ahead of Russia. The season started excellently for the United States with a shocking run to the Dubai final after narrowly squeaking into the quarterfinal. More pedestrian showings in Sydney and Kitakyushu had many wondering whether the Dubai result was purely a fluke. Then came Langford, in which the Eagles secured the bronze medal with a victory over home-side Canada in the quarterfinal and a redemption victory over France in the bronze-medal match.
The squad is full of veterans with only one exception in Ilona Maher. With the rest of the squad each boasting at least a dozen matches in Series play and many with more than five dozen, the team can definitely put together a great run to cap the season. The full squad is Ryan Carlyle, Lauren Doyle, Alev Kelter, Joanne Fa’Avesi, Kris Thomas, Abby Gustaitis, Nicole Heavirland, Naya Tapper, Cheta Emba, Kayla Canett, Illona Maher, and Jordan Gray. They will face France, Japan, and Spain in pool play. It is certainly not an easy pool. France currently sits third in the season standings and defeated the United States during pool play in Langford. And Spain may have stumbled in Langord but had put together a strong season to that point, including a fourth-place result in Kitakyushu.
Make sure to check back for complete coverage of the men’s and women’s matches in Paris.