Team USA qualifies for 2016 Olympic Games
Since the North America and West Indies Rugby Association (NAWIRA) rebranded as the North America Caribbean Rugby Association (NACRA) in the summer of 2009, the NACRA Sevens has been held every year. Despite the annual contest, the region’s powerhouse teams of Canada and the United States are infrequent participants. In 2004 and 2008, when the NAWIRA competition was held as a qualifier for the Rugby World Cup 7s, the United States claimed the cup title with a victory in the final over Canada. In 2012, the North Americans rivals met again in the NACRA final. This time, with Canada walking away the champion–though both sides earned World Cup qualification. The following year, both Canada and the USA sent representative sides. Again, it was the Canada Maple Leafs and the USA Falcons in the final with the team from Canada claiming the crown. In the remaining years, there’s one side that has dominated both the men’s and women’s competitions: Guyana.
Outside of the United States and Canada, Guyana is easily the most experienced sevens side in the NACRA region. Guyana is a side that has competed on the HSBC Sevens World Series in the 2010 & 2011 USA Sevens and 2012 Hong Kong Sevens. The team has also competed in the 2011 Pan American Games, falling to the USA in the quarterfinal. In addition, Guyana was also a competitor in the World Series qualifier this past year at the Hong Kong Sevens. Although Guyana was certainly considered the favorite to shock the world, the consensus has been for well over a year that the final would match team USA and team Canada for a winner-take-all match for Olympic qualification.
The big news heading into play was the absence of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. A sad turn of events resulted in the team being denied entry into the United States for the competition held in Cary, North Carolina. By all accounts, the unfortunate occurrence was not due to a failing on the team’s part, but was the victim of technical problems with the U.S. passport and visa systems. Due to the side’s absence, teams in Pool A–comprised of Barbados, Jamaica, Mexico, and USA–each received a bye in place of their scheduled matches against St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
On paper, the absence of St. Vincent and the Grenadines could not have been more fortuitous to the USA men’s national team. Canada was already burdened with the more difficult pool that included both Guayna and Trinidad & Tobago–who claimed 3rd in the 2013 NACRA Sevens and competed in the 2014 World Series qualifier. But the missing team meant that the United States had one fewer match to survive to reach the cup semifinal. While one fewer match is always a blessing, in the 90º F weather with a heat index approaching triple digits, it was a Godsend.
Even though the smart money was on a Canada–USA final, the path for the United States was by no means easy. Mexico and Barbados finished second and third respectively in December during the 2014 NACRA Sevens competition. The result booked a bid for both tournament champion Guyana and runner-up Mexico to the 2015 Pan American Games next month in Toronto. Additionally, the Jamaican contingent looked like a side that struck an impressive balance between speed and power vaguely reminiscent of some of the successful Eagles teams under Al Caravelli.
After a last minute shuffle to the schedule due to the absence of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Day 1 got under way with Barbados and Jamaica. Jamaica claimed an early 14–0 lead and extended it back to two tries after Barbados had narrowed the gap to seven, to take a 21–7 lead at the half. In the second half, Barbados stormed out with an early seven-pointer before Jamaica pushed their advantage back to fourteen. With a minute remaining, Barbados closed the gap once more to a converted try. Despite Jamaica having possession on fulltime, sloppy play resulted in a series of penalties in favor of Barbados. Ultimately, Barbados was able to score a try in the corner to make a draw attainable through a conversion, but the location of the try proved the undoing of Barbados as the well-struck kick faded just left of the post to leave Jamaica the 28–26 victor. The second match, over at Koka Booth Stadium–the venue utilized along with the main stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park to host the event–saw the Cayman Islands best Trinidad & Tobago 15–0. To some, the Cayman victory may appear an upset, given that T&T reached the cup semifinal of the 2014 NACRA Sevens while the Cayman Islands. But the final standings in December are misleading. All three losses for the Cayman Islands at the 2014 NACRA Sevens came at the hands of Guyana (2) and Mexico–the two sides that met in the final. In short, the Cayman Islands may well have been the third best team in Mexico City but suffered a rough pool draw (including Mexico and Guyana) and an even tougher draw in the knockout round (drawing Guyana in the first match).
The second men’s match on the main stadium pitch trotted out perennial NACRA Sevens champion, Guyana, to face the Bahamas. Guyana’s superior experience in the short code proved to be the difference. Although the Bahamas managed to pull within two scores with two minutes remaining, the team was unable to close the gap any further. Instead, it was Guyana posting the final points of the match to claim the 38–19 victory. The result capped the Saturday morning portion of the men’s competition. Yielding the pitch to the talented women’s teams.
In the women’s competition, the clear favorite was the United States. Despite a very proud tradition in XVs–most notably claiming the inaugural in 1991 and posting runner-up finishes in 1994 & 1998–the sevens side has been far less accomplished. In the three seasons on the World Rugby Sevens World Series, the American women have yet to claim a cup victory. Instead, the side has settled for two appearances in the cup final in tournaments held in the United States. Nevertheless, the Americans are still the class of this competition, by a wide margin. Team USA finished the 2014–15 World Series season level on points with fourth-place England, but missing Olympic qualification on a tiebreaker. Additionally, in the inaugural Women’s Sevens World Cup in 2009, the United States narrowly lost to powerhouse New Zealand (the only side to ever win the World Series season crown) in the semifinal. In 2013, another semifinal loss to New Zealand sent the Americans to a third-place victory over Spain. None of the other teams in the 2015 NACRA Sevens have ever competed at the Sevens World Cup or on the World Series.
The no-brainer favorite to meet the Eagles in the final was Mexico. Unlike their male counterpart, the Canadian women were not present at the 2015 NACRA Sevens. They were able to skip the competition having qualified through a top four finish in the Sevens World Series standings. The Mexico women’s team reached the 2013 NACRA Sevens final before being shellacked by a Canadian representative side (51–0). Perhaps having learned the true nature of dominance from the Canada Maple Leafs, Mexico tore through the 2014 NACRA Sevens posting an astonishing scoring line: 225 points for, 5 against. It was not until the final match, a 40–5 victory over Trinidad & Tobago, that the Mexico women yielded a single point through six matches.
Living up to both side’s expectations, the United States stormed out to an impressive 45–0 victory over Jamaica. Mexico similarly handled the Bahamas 31–0. In the other two matches to start the first round of play, the Cayman Islands edged out Barbados (12–5) and Trinidad & Tobago proved that the halcyon days for Guyana at the NACRA Sevens–2009 &2010 champion–were years in the rearview mirror with a comprehensive 34–12 victory.
After an hour-long respite from the heat and humidity, action got back underway with the men. The first match of the afternoon went as expected–Mexico posted a sound victory over Jamaica (24–5). The real surprise came in the match over at Koka Booth: Guyana barely survived a surprisingly well-performing Cayman Islands side (14–12). The presumptive finalist, team Canada finally took the field for the Canadians first taste of action on the day. For team Canada, it was a clinical 45-point shutout of the Bahamas. With the conclusion of Canada’s victory, came a two-hour gap before the men’s competition resumed with team USA taking on Barbados.
In the interim, the women took center stage. The USA women got afternoon play under way with a try off the opening kick to take a quick 7–0 lead over Barbados. Barbados was let off the hook when a deep restart kick by the United State fell to the deck but was knocked on by team USA. The Eagles stole the scrum, earned a penalty, and then struck a second converted try to with less than three minutes gone. For both sides, early on there was difficulty taking the ball cleanly. Nevertheless, fortuitous bounces allowed the United States to push the lead to 21. Once again, Barbados struggles to do anything with the restart and the Americans added a fourth try of the half. Despite Barbados finally taking the ball cleanly, it wasn’t long before the United States was through for a fifth try. It took an American error–the ball not traveling ten meters on the kick–for Barbados to cross the midfield stripe. Even then, Barbados barely made two meters into the American side of the field before losing possession to end the half USA 33, Barbados 0.
The second half started just as the first half had begun, an American breakaway run from the kickoff. Once again, the restart kick yielded another American try. Through the first nine minutes of the match, more time was spent with the USA awaiting the conversion kick than live action. The ensuing restart was taken by a great play from Barbados, but the ball was soon lost forward to set up a USA Scrum. Seconds later, yet another try was on serve for the Eagles. Half a century of points already on the board, the restart came with two and a half minutes left for the United States to extend the margin. Less than thirty seconds later, five more points were claimed by the Americans. With a minute remaining, Barbados finally made a linebreak, but a lack of support led to turnover ball and seven points for team USA. With just enough time left for two tries, the methodical Americans put Barbados to the sword for a clinical 74–0 victory.
In the rest of the women’s matches for the round, Jamaica proved that the surprising success of the Cayman Islands’ men’s team did not cross over to the women: Jamaica 26, Cayman 0. Trinidad continued the winning ways striding past the Bahamas in a six-unconverted-try romp (30–0). Lastly, Mexico continued to prove that the women from south of the border were most likely to meet the USA in the final by defeating Guyana 27–7.
With the men returning to the field, first up was team USA in their first match of the 2015 NACRA Sevens. The match started with familiar faces, but not familiar starters. Nevertheless, the Eagles methodically raced to a 33–0 halftime lead on the back of a brace of tries from Martin Iosefo, and tries from Perry Baker, Danny Barrett, and Folau Niua. The second half started with some wholesale changes as Coach Friday brought his captain and a few of his more regular starters back onto the pitch. Perhaps most notably, taking the pitch was former Eagles 7s captain Chris Wyles, who has become a stalwart of the Eagles XVs and a bonafide star for Premiership champion Saracens in England. Scores were slow coming in the second half. The scoreboard started ticking once more when Carlin Isles, who had been bottled up earlier in the half, caught the corner and turned on the gas to score in the right corner. Wyles stepped up for the tough, long conversion and slotted the kick perfectly to cap the seven-pointer. On the restart, captain Madison Hughes’s kick sailed just over the Barbados pod. Iosefo, continuing his phenomenal play, scooped the ball from the deck and passed to Maka Unufe for a second try in the right corner. Wyles, from the same spot as before, notched the difficult kick through. With just under a minute remaining, Hughes finished the match on a high when he snapped up the ball from a friendly scrum and scampered untouched for the try under the post. Hughes acted quickly to convert his own try in an apparent hope for further play, but the ref sounded his whistle and the clinic was over: USA 54, Barbados 0.
On the Koka Booth field, Cayman Islands bested the Bahamas 28–19. To finish the men’s play for the round, Canada took the main stage against Trinidad & Tobago. Despite expectations that Canada would cruise through all comers as the USA had against Barbados, T&T proved to be a fierce competitor. With just over two minutes remaining, Canada’s lead was an uncomfortable 21–7. After Trinidad was shown a yellow card, Canada turned on the scoring to capitalize on the man advantage and close the match with a flattering result: Canada 38, Trinidad 7.
Switching back to the women’s competition, team USA jogged onto the pitch looking to claim the top seed for Day 2’s quarterfinal with a solid win over the Cayman Islands. Familiarly, the Eagles started with an early score to lead 7–0. The only thing that slowed the American women down was the restart kick not going ten meters. Less than three minutes in, and backed up into their own territory following the restart error, the Eagles found the corner and with it seven more points. Although the Eagles did not win the restart, their constant pressure forced a Cayman Islands error that resulted in five more points to the United States. With still a minute and a half remaining in the half, another methodically forced error resulted in a fourth USA try to push the unanswered lead to 26 at the half.
The second half started with a try the likes of which you may never see again. The uncharacteristically long restart kick drifted well past the Cayman defense and was picked up on the try line. With the ball being carried back in, the Cayman ball carrier opted to try for a clearance kick. Instead, the Eagles pounced. Richelle Stephens dove on the kick on its way up, smothered it, and pushed it straight down for the first try of the half–her second of the match. It was the first try of the half, but not the last. The Eagles completed the shutout with a resounding 50– 0 victory. At the end of Day 1 for the USA women, the points differential was staggering: 169 points for, 0 against.
Rounding out the women’s pool play: Jamaica cruised to a 40–5 victory to leave Barbados winless in pool play; Mexico beat Trinidad & Tobago (29–7) in what appeared a likely preview of the semifinal to decide which team would play the fierce team USA; and Guyana finally got back to its winning ways with a 21–12 victory over the Bahamas.
Heading back to the men’s competition, team USA’s second and final match of the day pitted the Eagles against Mexico. Mexico, the runner-up in December to Guyana in the 2014 NACRA Sevens, appeared the most formidable challenge in pool play. The United States got the scoring started when, as they had so many times against Barbados, stole the lineout. This time, it was Garrett Bender instead of Danny Barrett. In the end, the result was the same when Maka Unufe crossed the line for the try. After Madison Hughes’s conversion, the Eagles were 7–0 in front. The second score came after team USA took a quick tap on a penalty within the Mexican 22. Perry Baker got the score in to the left of the post. Hughes’s conversion left wanting, put team USA ahead by twelve. The third hard-earned try came from Folau Niua with just under two minutes remaining in the half. Hughes’s second conversion pushed the lead to nineteen. For the third time, the dominant USA restarts were poorly executed, preventing the team from pulling away from Mexico. With no time left in the half, Hughes charged down a Mexican kick to establish possession for the Eagles inside the Mexico 22, but the sloppy start to the match continued when team USA turned the ball over and Mexico booted it out the back of the narrow try zone to end the half down 19–0.
As the second half got under way, the team looked desperate to reestablish dominance. The Eagles took the restart cleanly. After hard hitting at the ruck, the ball was sent wide to Baker for his second try of the match. The resulting restart was again poorly executed. Nevertheless, a solid steal got the Eagles off and running with many of the hard meters gained by Zack Test before Danny Barrett could cap it off for the try. Wyles’s conversion pushed the lead to thirty-three. Finally, on the restart, classic USA dominance reemerged, when Zack Test slapped the ball back to midfield. It worked into the hands of speedster Carlin Isles who put on a dazzling, spinning display of running through the heart of Mexican defense. With just shy of a minute left, Isles once more found ball in hand, he narrowly avoided being forced into touch before being dragged down just shy of the try line. A Wyles in support grabbed his first try of the tournament to seal the effort. Regaining some mojo, team USA snagged the restart. To end the day, Carlin Isles added his second try on full time to finish things off. With Wyles’s second conversion, the match hit the half-century mark.
After a slow start, the United States finished off their fiercest opponent in pool play with fifty unanswered points. Through two matches, the Eagles outscored their opponents 104 to 0. After Day 1, the try-leaders were the speedsters Isles and Baker with three tries each. The Eagles could not have asked for much more on Day 1, but all they did on Day 1 was live up to expectations. Day 2 is where history is made. In London, the Eagles did just that. In Cary, the Americans would need to win three matches to prove they are the proper heirs to the legacy of the Americans who claimed gold in 1920 & 1924 when rugby was last included in the Olympic games.
In the final two matches of Day 1, the Bahamas edged Trinidad & Tobago by a single conversion (14–12) and Canada rebounded from a poor showing against Trinidad to shutout the Cayman Islands (36–0). For the men, Day 2 would start with the final pool play matches. For the women, Day 2 was to start with each team seeded in the cup quarterfinal.
Day 2 got under way with an early 9am EST start for a US men’s team based in California. The early start seemed to contribute to some sluggish play. After nothing short of utter dominance on Day 1, team USA started much more slowly on Day 2. Throughout the first half, the Eagles looked a far cry from the crisp unit that posted two fifty-point shutouts on Day 1. Despite the shaky play, the Americans struck first after three minutes when Maka Unufe broke the Jamaican line for a try. The Nate Augspurger conversion put the USA ahead 7–0. On the restart, Garret Bender stole the possession back for USA. After some firm pressure just five meters out from the try line, a loose pass ended up with a Jamaican boot sending it back to midfield. Speedster Carlin Isles was the beneficiary of the loose ball as he scooped it up and danced in for the try. On the resulting possession, the USA kick fell into touch to give Jamaica the free kick at midfield. The Jamaicans capitalized and scored a try in the left corner to make the halftime score a very uncomfortable 14–5.
The second half began much as the first half ended, The Jamaican kick was taken by Danny Barrett within the USA 22, and Barrett was dragged into touch. The lineout, however, is when things finally shifted in favor of the Eagles. Zack Test stepped up and stole the Jamaican lineout, worked the ball to Perry Baker, who put on a demonstration of his speed in gashing the Jamaican defense for a try under the post. Augspurger’s third conversion put the USA in front 21–5. The fourth try came moments after Madison Hughes stepped on the field. The restart ball hit the deck, and Madison Hughes ran onto it and scored a try to put the score to 26–5. The fifth try came after Chris Wyles who scooted across the line for his second try of the tournament. Hughes added the conversion to extend the score to 33–5. The final kickoff came right after the hooter had blown. The Eagles stole the restart and were off running, eventually sending Nate Augspurger across for the final try. A second conversion from Hughes set the final line: USA 40, Jamaica 5.
Finishing pool play for the men’s competition: Mexico posted a strong win, hammering the Bahamas (33–0); Guyana won comfortably over Trinidad & Tobago (29–5); and Canada delivered the Cayman Islands its first loss (36–0). With the men on break, the women took the pitch in the quarterfinals. For the USA women, it was more of the same as they laid it on the Bahamas for a 59–0 victory. Also booking spots in the semifinal were Jamaica (24–0 over Guyana), T&T (27–7 over Cayman), and Mexico (30–5 over Barbados).
Unlike the women’s competition, for the men, only the top four teams from pool play remained with a chance to claim the top prize. First up was team USA taking on a surprising Cayman Islands. The Americans got things started with a great steal by Andrew Durutalo of the opening kick. Perry Baker capped the early possession with a try after only 31 seconds. The difficult conversion from the right touchline was well taken, but did not result in points for Madison Hughes. The second team USA try came after a poach by Durutalo and pass to Maka Unufe who passed out to Martin Iosefo in space for a try under the post for the easy conversion by Hughes. The third try came from a fifty-meter run by Baker for a try under the post to push the American advantage to 19–0. With two minutes remaining in the half, Cayman Islands were shown yellow after a dangerous tackle that sent Pery Baker to the floor after going high for the ball. The hard fall didn’t phase Baker as he completed his hat trick thirty seconds later with a try in the left corner. Down a man for most of the remainder of the first half, Cayman struggled to move the ball forward before surrendering possession deep in their own half. Ultimately, Martin Iosefo crossed the line with a try under the post to push the lead to 31–0 at the half.
The second half started inauspiciously for Cayman when the kickoff managed only a few meters to allow a free kick at midfield for the Eagles. The Eagles soon scored from the promising position with a nice run from Iosefo who offloaded to Garrett Bender for the try under the post. Hughes’s conversion pushed the lead to 38. Another try was claimed by Carlin Isles, on for Baker with under four minutes remaining. Chris Wyles added the tough kick from the right touchline to push the lead to 45. Yet another Eagles try was on offer when Danny Barrett crossed the line with two minutes remaining. The more makeable kick for Wyles was slotted through to push the lead to 52–0 with the restart to come with just over a minute remaining. Thirty seconds later, Isles added his second try of the match allowing another solid conversion from Wyles to push the lead to 59. Down, but not out, the Cayman Islands showed a great deal of heart in trying to run with the ball on full time, but the islanders lost the ball and led to a Zack Test try to finish the match: USA 64, Cayman 0.
As everyone had expected, Canada disposed of Mexico (36–0) to book a date with destiny against team USA for the NACRA Championship and the Olympic birth that went with it. This season, the two sides played five times in the World Series. The Eagles claimed, what was then considered an upset, victory in the season’s first tournament by the narrow margin of 17–15. When the teams next met at the USA Sevens in Las Vegas, the Eagles romped for a 20–0 win to reach the cup semifinal. Even in the Tokyo Sevens, a down tournament for the Americans, it was team USA who claimed the win (22–14). Where things finally got interesting was in the penultimate tournament of the season in Glasgow. To start the tournament–a tournament in which the United States finished fourth–team Canada trounced the Eagles 40–0. However, confidence was restored in the cup quarterfinal of the London Sevens–a tournament that team USA won–when the Eagles won 29–10 over team Canada.
With the men’s final set, it was time for the women’s semifinal matches. For team USA, there was only one difference from every other result in the tournament: they yielded a try. Despite failing to garner yet another shutout victory, the comfortable margin acted as a fine balm: USA 53, Jamaica 5. The second semifinal was a rematch of the Pool B decider. Mexico claimed the first match 29–7, the second match against T&T was not as easy. Still, Mexico came away the 15–0 victor to earn a shot at the Eagles in the final.
In the women’s final, team USA took the kickoff cleanly and almost instantly gained a penalty. After the tap, the ball worked out to Kristen Thomas for the first seven-pointer. The second American try came by way Joanne Fa’avesi to extend the lead to 14 with sixteen minutes remaining between the United States and Olympic qualification. The third try came two minutes later when Kate Zackary broke a Mexican tackle and finished off the solid run to push the advantage to 21. With three minutes to go in the half, Kelly Griffin stepped through the defense for try number four. After nailing her first three conversion attempts, Alev Kelter’s conversion kick failed to find its mark: USA 26, Mexico 0. A minute later, Fa’avesi added her second try to push the lead to 33. Not to be outdone, Zackary snagged the ball from the restart and ran in for her second try. On the stroke of halftime, Lauren Doyle added her name to the scorer’s column to make it 45–0 at the half.
The second half started with another great take from the kickoff by Zackary. Thirty seconds later, Griffin added her second try with a slicing run through the Mexican defense (52–0). With that score came the first two American subs of the match. The next score came courtesy of Doyle in the corner with eight minutes remaining after a well-earned turnover ball. On the next restart, Carmen Farmer, having come in for Zackary, proved a suitable replacement with a steal of the kick. It resulted in Lauren Doyle’s hat trick to push the score out to 62 with five and a half minutes remaining. Finally a USA error gave Mexico a free kick at midfield, but the hurried, exhausted Mexican player made knocked the ball on before executing the kick, awarding a scrum to the USA. After winning the scrum, the Eagles got the ball to recently subbed-on Hannah Lopez who grabbed a try in the corner to extend the margin to 67. Again, the resulting restart was taken by the United States and again, the ball ended up in the hands of Lopez for her second try with just over three minutes remaining: USA 74, Mexico 0. Soon after, Mellissa Fowler scored under the post to push the score to a staggering 81 points. Just before fulltime, Griffin completed a hat trick of her own to set the final margin at 88–0. Mexico took the final restart and kicked to touch.
The dominant win capped off an amazing tear through the competition. Through their six matches, the Eagles combined to score 369 points and yield just 5. It was a resurgent season for the women’s team as they were a one-point loss in the third-place match of the final tournament from claiming Olympic qualification through the World Series and then stormed through the NACRA Sevens Championship without missing a beat.
Before the men’s final came the third place match between Mexico and the Cayman Islands. Though neither team could claim the NACRA qualifying spot, to the winner would go an invitation to the repechage tournament to decide the final Olympic bid. Mexico pushed the lead out to 26–0 before Cayman Islands came fighting back. With under two minutes remaining, Cayman Islands scored its second try, earning a yellow card against Mexico in the process. On the ensuing restart, Cayman snagged the ball out of the air and dotted the ball to cut the lead to a single score. The final restart drifted into touch and the ref sounded the final whistle. The ultimate result was filled with controversy due to the on-field official’s failure to stop the clock while issuing the yellow card against Mexico. The failure to stop the clock let more than thirty valuable seconds expire.
Finally, after years of buildup and financing premised on the chance to compete on the world’s highest sporting stage, the Olympic dreams for both the United States and Canada hinged on one twenty-minute match in Cary, North Carolina.
After a hard pounding first four minutes to start the match, the Eagles capitalized on an overload that provided space for Perry Baker to break through the Canadian line for a try under the post, setting up an easy conversion kick for Madison Hughes. A second try was on offer after Andrew Durutalo poached a ball from Canada depriving Canada of good attacking position. Baker soon broke the Canadian defense before offloading to Danny Barrett who managed to cross the line after a long run just before being dragged down by the pursuing Canadian defender. Hughes slotted his second conversion to push the Eagles in front 14–0. Unfortunately, the tackle on Baker before his offload to Barrett sent Baker off with an injury. Of course, the loss of a player like Baker would destroy most teams, but the Eagles speedster was spelled by burner Carlin Isles. The next Eagles try came when Folau Niua made a cut back against the Canadian defense with an impressive dummy pass. With Maka Unufe in support, Niua went into contact with the Canadian fullback to offload to Unufe for the try under the post. Hughes’s third conversion pushed team USA in front 21–0 with under a minute left in the first half. The Eagles looked poised for another score when Folau Niua was sent off the field with a yellow card. Niua was cited for using his knee when going into the tackle and injured a Canadian player. Canada chose to kick directly into touch to end the half down 21–0.
Starting down a player for two full minutes, the Eagles kicked to get things under way. Canada collected the ball and set to work trying to cut into the lead. Canada quickly got inside the USA half and earned a penalty moving the ball inside the 22 before the USA was able to poach the ball. A near disastrous interception was inches away when the turnover ball was passed to Hughes who was instantly hit by a hard-charging Canadian. The USA soon earned a penalty for a ruck infraction and were able to kick to touch near the ten meter line with just over eight minutes remaining in the match. Canada soon looked likely to score before losing possession, allowing Niua to return in the process. Canada almost scored a try from a USA scrum but were penalized instead, allowing the Eagles to kick to touch just shy of the ten-meter line. The lineout throw was tapped back by the Eagles and rolled along the deck before Canada could scoop it up. The United States soon turned the ball over, but sloppy play prevented Carlin Isles from having a chance to find the corner when the ball was knocked on. Canada won a penalty at the scrum and began the pressure, but the USA defense continued to hold before knocking the ball on to set up a Canadian scrum at the five-meter line. Finally, with just under three and a half minutes remaining, Canada managed to break through the American defense for a try in the right corner. The important kick deflected off the left post to leave Canada needing three scores in under three minutes to avoid the repechage.
With two and a half minutes remaining, Canada refused to relent. A USA knock on from the restart followed by a penalty, gave Canada possession in attacking position with two minutes left. With a minute and a half left, the ball fell to the pitch and Chris Wyles put a boot to the ball sending it deep into Canadian territory. Though Canada recovered, they were unable to regain the prior field position before being dragged into touch at their own ten-meter line. The Eagles won the lineout with under a minute remaining. With thirty seconds remaining, Canada regained possession from a penalty at the ruck after Danny Barrett’s big run. With too little time to score three times, Chris Wyles was sent off with a yellow card. Despite playing down a man, team USA did not yield a consolation try before the ball was sent into touch to end the match and allow the coronation of the Eagles as North American champions. The win pushes team USA’s winning streak to 11 matches, dating back to a 6–0 run in London.
The accomplishment of Olympic qualification for both the men and women Eagles cannot be overstated. Ever since the announcement echoed through the rugby universe that sevens would bring rugby back to the Olympic Games in 2016, there has been one focus in this country: competing for gold in Rio. In the build up, there were many times it seemed like qualification, let alone gold was a long shot. Just last year, I wrote that the men had “steep hill to climb to make Rio.” Proudly I say today, Rio, here we come.