Singapore 7s Preview
2016 Singapore Sevens Preview
For the first time since 2006, the Sevens World Series travels to Singapore. Last weekend, the teams competed in what is routinely considered the preeminent sevens tournament, the Hong Kong Sevens. As we have become used to this year, Hong Kong provided numerous upsets, but the top four tracked the current standings.
For the United States, Hong Kong provided a second consecutive plate final defeat. As a result, the Eagles have still yet to claim hardware on the season. Of course, with the readjustment to expectations, what would once have been a season highlighting victory in the plate final has given way to realistic aspirations of a cup victory to match the title in the 2015 London Sevens. In order for team USA to keep hopes alive of a cup title in Singapore, the Eagles will need to survive a third consecutive tournament in a difficult pool.
|Pool A||Pool B||Pool C||Pool D|
|Fiji||New Zealand||South Africa||Australia|
In many ways, Pool A is the most intriguing. Highlighting the pool is the final match on Day 1 between Fiji and England. While matches between Fiji and England have always been ones to watch, the fact that Fiji’s coach, Ben Ryan, was England’s coach until 2013 adds to the excitement. Fiji tops the series and has won two of the last three tournaments, including Hong Kong last week. Although Fiji came through Hong Kong unscathed, a near upset to Canada (19–17) to start the tournament and a close victory over Kenya in the cup quarterfinal (12–10) threatened to derail the charge.
While Fiji has had a prototypically Fijian season, three cup titles and atop the standings, England has had a rather atypical season. The English started the year with a loss in the Dubai cup final to Fiji, but has thrice missed the cup round, finishing dead last in Las Vegas. In Hong Kong, the England of old returned. With the exception of a bizarre draw against Russia to end pool play, England played well. The lone loss came in the quarterfinal to Australia (14–5), before shutting out Kenya (33–0) and the United States (19–0) en route to the plate.
Samoa poses the biggest threat to England once more reaching the quarterfinals. In any given match, Samoa can beat most any team. But there is no consistency in this Samoan side the past two years. One advantage Samoa might have is a team from a nation more accustomed to the warm conditions the teams are set to face in Signapore. In Hong Kong, the heat and humidity got the best of some teams. Perhaps this is the advantage Samoa needs to send England back to the bowl competition.
For Portugal, it is rapidly becoming make-or-break time. The Portuguese have finished last in five of seven tournaments and are six points behind Russia for relegation. Although a cup round birth seems out of the question, some signs of life will be necessary if Portugal is to avoid the fate of its Iberian neighbor two years ago.
In Pool C, South Africa is the clear favorite to top the pool. It would be unimaginable for South Africa to miss the quarterfinals, but not unimaginable for South Africa to finish second. As recently as Las Vegas, Kenya posted a 3–0 pool record with a blowout (22–0) victory over New Zealand. In Hong Kong, the road was much tougher for Kenya and the team did barely enough to reach the quarterfinals. Kenya hammered Samoa (24–0) to start the tournament and then had tough losses to New Zealand (5–0) and France (17–10) before being swept on Day 3, losing 12–10 to Fiji and 33–0 to England.
Pressing Kenya for the second spot will be Scotland. The Scots reached a first quarterfinal back in Vancouver, but have been a consistently strong side in the bowl competition–four bowl finals and one victory. In Vancouver, Scotland posted a meaningful victory over Argentina to reach the cup round and has some impressive wins at times this season. Perhaps most notably a 19–0 bowl victory over England one tournament removed from England’s finals appearance in Dubai.
This could also be a very important tournament for Russia. Just over a year ago, Russia surprised many by winning the series-qualifying tournament in Hong Kong. As a result, this is Russia’s first year on the series. Things have gone largely as would be expected, but Russia has not been hapless by any means. Although it is a long shot, Scotland’s and Kenya’s vulnerabilities provide Russia the best chance so far for reaching a quarterfinal. That said, this will be the sixth time the two sides meet in pool play this year and Scotland stands at 5–0.
Pool D is a very interesting pool. It is the only pool draw in Singapore that includes four teams that have reached the cup round. Australia and Argentina have combined for three second-place finishes and the last time Japan competed on the series it reached the plate final in Las Vegas. Thanks to Japan’s strong showing in Vegas and the fact that Japan is a non-core team this year, after relegation last year, Wales has ridden the surge of weak pool draws to consecutive quarterfinal drubbings.
Australia is the favorite to top Pool D but is not invincible. In Hong Kong, Australia finished second in the pool after a 22–7 loss to the United States. In the cup round, it was a mixed showing. Australia defeated a talented England (14–5) in the quarterfinals before a drubbing by Fiji in the semifinals (34–5). In the third-place decider, South Africa got the better of Australia by a conversion (14–12).
Wales has played better of late than throughout most of the season, but the story of Wales the past two seasons has been quarterfinals by atrocious pools. Japan and Argentina should each be favored to send Wales back to the bowl competition. After a strong start to the season, Argentina has slipped into the bowl competition the last two tournaments, but dominated Scotland (26–0) to win the bowl in Hong Kong. Similarly, Japan looked solid in Vegas and came out victorious last weekend in the series qualifier. It will be interesting to see which of these two teams can make it out of pool play. The pool should be topped by Australia (3–0) and anchored by Wales (0–3). Second place should come down to the winner of Argentina-Japan to finish pool play. It is, however, entirely possible that this is a pool that will see Australia, Argentina, and Japan split their matches to hold 2–1 records to be decided by points. It is also within the realm of possibility that Wales can string together some victories and finally earn a quarterfinal.
For Eagles’ fans, Pool B is a third straight tough pool that threatens to end the unprecedented streak of nine-consecutive quarterfinals. New Zealand will be the favorite to top the pool, but if the Eagles play solid rugby, they can topple the All Blacks Sevens. The problem is, if the Eagles are off both France and rival Canada can claim huge victories. In Dubai, a victory by France left the United States needing a first-ever victory over New Zealand to reach the quarterfinal. It would be the first of three victories over the Kiwis to start the season.
The Eagles will be boasting a strong side but not an ideal side. Heading into Hong Kong, Carlin Isles was injured and left Coach Friday needing to bring Nate Ebner into the lineup. Ebner was in Hong Kong for the 10s competition, where his side fell in the final. Due to Ebner’s recent transition back to rugby from the NFL and having already gone through heavy competition, Friday carried Ebner on the roster but did not use him. This weekend, Ebner remains in the lineup and should expect to see some playing time.
Another change from what had been the anticipated roster for Hong Kong is Ben Pinkelman. Since joining the squad for Wellington, Pinkelman has become a mainstay, adding three tries in Hong Kong. His rapid ascension and maturation belie his youth. His youth is what triggers his exclusion for Singapore. Pinkelman is still a student at Colorado State and has returned to tend to his studies. In his place, Mike Friday has called Pat Blair back into the roster. This is Blair’s second appearance with team USA this season as he joined the injury-ravaged squad for Vancouver. Blair is a series veteran and showed well in the Falcons team that won the Las Vegas Invitational.
Remaining from Hong Kong is Madison Hughes who was in peak form in Hong Kong. Also making a strong showing in Hong Kong was Danny Barrett. Although Barrett has been a strong contributor all season, he showed more regularly his signature brutality and strength to which to which we became accustomed last season and in the buildup to the XVs World Cup. Most memorably, Barrett powered through two Welsh defenders in highlight-reel fashion. Keeping his run of great form in the absence of his fellow speedster is Perry Baker. With Carlin Isles out, Baker has become a try-scoring machine beyond what we have become accustomed to. If Isles had been out all season, Baker may well be leading the series in tries. That said, the side is certainly missing Isles. Baker’s magic has kept the train on the tracks, but without the ability to swap fresh legs onto the pitch, six matches can become draining on even a great athlete like Baker.
The full squad for the Eagles is:
- Nate Ebner
- Pat Blair
- Danny Barrett
- Garrett Bender
- Zack Test
- Peter Tiberio
- Folau Niua
- Maka Unufe
- Nate Augspurger
- Madison Hughes
- Perry Baker
- Martin Iosefo
The action gets underway Saturday (4/16) and concludes the following day (4/17). Make sure to check back for a complete recap of all the action.