USA Takes Silver in Dubai
For many years, the team USA’s early season hopes were buried beneath the sands of Dubai. In 2015, the Eagles claimed its lone top-three finish at the event. Last season, the Americans began with the worst possible of scenarios: a concussion to World Rugby Sevens Player of the Year, Perry Baker, and a winless showing. This year, however, the Eagles soared to new heights.
The campaign got under way with the United States heavily favored over Spain. The Eagles did not disappoint, racking up a 29–0 victory care of a brace from Baker and tries by Danny Barrett, Carlin Isles, and Matai Leuta, with Madison Hughes slotting two conversions.
The second match against Wales proved a bit more difficult but still resulted in a dominant American win. Two first-half scores by Folau Niua and Baker, each converted by Hughes, pushed team USA to a 14–0 lead before Wales answered with a five-pointer to close the half. Niua and Hughes each added tries to open the second half to put the match well out of reach before Wales could get a second score. Kevon Williams’ self-converted try to close the match set the final margin at 33–12 over the one-time Rugby World Cup Sevens champions.
Following the victory over Wales, the United States had secured a spot in the Dubai quarterfinal. The only question remained whether the Eagles could claim a seldom, but increasingly frequent victory over the All Blacks Sevens. A victory over New Zealand would have allowed the Americans to bypass the always dangerous Fijians in the quarterfinal in favor of the much more favorable matchup with Scotland. A relatively rare victory over the defending World Cup Sevens champion was not to be. The match began poorly with Baker receiving a yellow card. New Zealand capitalized on the advantage and ultimately built a 14–0 halftime lead. That lead was extended in the second half with an unconverted score before Carlin Isles was able to claim the lone try of the contest for the United States. Following Hughes’s conversion, there were no more points for team USA. New Zealand added one more five-pointer to set the final margin at 24–7 in favor of New Zealand.
Despite the setback to close the first day, the grand prize still remained on offer when Day 2 kicked off. Few teams matchup well with Fiji, but of the top-three teams the past several years—South Africa, Fiji, and New Zealand—the United States has proven a worthy contender against Fiji. Heading into the contest, the Eagles had won half of the last ten meetings. With this match, the United States has now made it six from the last eleven.
Making up for his initial error against New Zealand, Baker put Fiji under pressure with the first try of the match. But with the conversion no good, the lead was just 5–0. Fiji answered back and took the temporary 7–5 lead before Baker’s second try of the half put the United States back in front. Hughes’ conversion set the halftime margin at 12–7. In the second half, Martin Iosefo and Folau Niua crossed the line to put the match well out of reach of the Fijians. Hughes’ conversion made it 24–7 before Fiji added a converted score to close the match a monumentally disappointing 24–14 to the United States.
What a weekend. USA takes second in Dubai and now sit No. 2 in the World Rugby Sevens rankings
Posted by USA Sevens Rugby on Monday, December 3, 2018
The win sent the United States into the semifinal. That meant at least a top-four finish was secured. That is an important marker to watch this season, as the top four finishers will secure World Cup qualification. Notably, this time in 2014, when Mike Friday was hired, it was the United States looking enviously north to Canada, hoping the Canadians might secure a top four series finish to open the avenue for two North American qualifiers. Instead, it was team USA that surged that year and ultimately bested Canada in the NACRA final to earn a bid to Rio. This time around, team USA is looking to book a ticket to Tokyo bypassing the NACRA qualifier.
In the semifinal the Eagles drew Australia. Team USA looked poised to score early when Martin Iosefo scooped a lose ball from the kickoff and charged into Australian territory. Barrett’s uncharacteristic handling error into contact squandered the attacking opportunity. Australia threatened with the possession but could not crack the Eagles’ sure defense before surrendering possession.
With the ball from the ensuing scrum working out to Baker on the wing, who put his boot to the ball and easily scampered past the Australian defense for the scoop and easy-looking score. Hughes chipped over the two-pointer for a 7–0 advantage midway into the half. Following the kickoff, a quick score by Matai Leuta in the corner made it USA 12, Australia 0. But Australia was down, not out. The Australians, with under a minute to go in the half took the kickoff for a quick five points down the left wing. Then, not done yet, the Australians added a full seven more to close the half level with the United States.
Australia threatened first in the second half, which paid dividends after Baker was sent off for an intentional knock on, opening the edge for Australia to make it 17–12. In years past, the Eagles may well have buckled under the weight of the moment, as the historical rugby powerhouse nation made it three scores in short order. But that is not the mentality of this squad under Coach Friday. Just having regained Baker and facing a lineout inside its own twenty-two, team USA faced a do-or-die moment in the match. The Eagles chose do. They stole the lineout throw. After multiple phases, the Americans temporarily lost possession before regaining and capitalizing with a try by Stephen Tomasin in the corner. Hughes could not connect on the conversion, leaving it knotted up at 17–17.
With the match heading to full time, and the hooter long since blown, it was American heroics that paid off. Australia fended an American attack with Isles inside the Australia ten-meter line before giving up a penalty to Australia. The Eagles defense refused to break. The Americans regained possession and soon were the benefactors of a penalty. Folau Niua took the quick tap and set up Danny Barrett on the wing for the game-winning try to secure only a
After claiming the historic victory, team USA secured only its fifth ever finals appearance, tying the United States with Kenya for eighth most appearances all-time—Argentina sits at 7th with 13 appearances. New Zealand, on the other hand, entered into its 92nd final, with 56 cup victories to its name. Unfortunately for team USA, this was not the day that the Americans claimed their third-ever cup victory.
It looked early like the Eagles may reverse their pool defeat to New Zealand. The Americans got comfortably inside the New Zealand twenty-two before Matai Leuta lost the ball in contact, giving New Zealand a possession that would ultimately turn into the first seven points of the contest with just over two minutes to go in the half. Another USA scoring opportunity ended with a Leuta handling error and the sides settled for a 7–0 score line at the break.
Following a New Zealand yellow card, the Americans got a much-needed shot at points when a lineout throw worked out to Iosefo who cut into the New Zealand defense before cycling the ball back down the chain, ultimately opening up Tomasin for a try off the left wing. Hughes narrowly missed out on the crucial conversion, leaving his side two points off the level.
Off the restart, a penalty against New Zealand gave Baker a chance at a signature try but he was unable to find pay dirt and turned over the possession inside the New Zealand five-meter line. The Americans’ chances of success dwindled further when New Zealand caught the United States flatfooted on a surprise throw in from the sideline on a play that also could have been taken as a scrum and scored between the sticks. Isles’ valiant effort nearly saved the score, but was unable to prevent the All Blacks Sevens from pushing ahead 14–5 in the final minutes of the match. The Americans could not find anymore points. New Zealand added a try on fulltime for window dressing, making it 21–5.
The result is a phenomenal start to an important season and positions team USA well for next weekend in Cape Town, South Africa. Topping Pool B, the United States will once more see Spain in pool play. Rounding out the pool are Japan and Argentina. The Eagles should once more be in excellent position to reach the quarterfinal, where they will likely draw either England or Fiji.
Dubai was not only a great success for the USA men. Heading to Dubai for the second leg of the Women’s Sevens World Series, team USA looked to build on a surprising finals appearance in Glendale, Colorado from October. In Glendale, the Eagles dropped two of their three pool matches before shocking Australia (26–5) and then besting France (21–19) in the semifinal. New Zealand continued its international dominance that is occasionally broken up by Australia by easily dispatching the Americans (33–7).
In Dubai, the Americans looked to prove that they belong in the top-tier. After a narrow loss to England in pool play, following a demolition of China to open the day, it looked like team USA may well fall to 1–2 in pool play for the second time this season with a matchup against Australia ahead. Instead, it was a second consecutive victory over the Olympic gold medalists (22–17) that saw team USA to 2–1 in pool play. From there, it was a second consecutive two-point win over France (12–10) before a decisive defeat to New Zealand (22–0) in the semifinal ended hopes of a first-ever cup win.
In the bronze-medal match, the Americans struck first with a self-converted try by Alev Kelter. Australia answered back to tie it up. Naya Tapper once more put the United States ahead by seven, with Nicole Heavirland adding the conversion. But team USA could not hold the lead at half, thanks to a converted score by Charolotte Caslick to make it 14–14 at intermission.
In the second half, Kelter again put her team ahead with a self-converted try, but Caslick made it a brace of her own and Lily Dick’s unconverted try on full time finished the remarkable battle with Australia edging out the United States for bronze.
The result keeps team USA in the top three of the table and saw Lauren Doyle honored as a dream team selection. The women are now off until February when their season resumes in Sydney.