Breaking Down the USA Men After Dubai
Breaking Down the USA Men After Dubai
The USA Men’s second outing in the Sevens World Series was inconsistent.
But that’s to be expected, really, because the team itself is inconsistent. Big changes have happened and more will happen as Head Coach Mike Friday transitions to a younger team.
The Eagles took apart a poor Canadian team, but at least that’s what they did. Kevon Williams showed once again he can take over a game when it’s needed, and we saw the superb acceleration of Lucas Lacamp and his potential. Steven Tomasin is going back to what he enjoys most, it seems, which is making tackles and making sure other players are in position to shine. He scored 18 points against Canada but that wasn’t why he’s so crucial to the team.
Their game against Kenya looked troublesome late after Alvin Maruba put his side up 21-19 with no time left … correction; Maruba didn’t delay his touchdown long enough and there was time enough for the restart. Naima Fuala’au put in a blistering run and linked nicely with his support to set up the game-winner for Perry Baker. Just about everyone was in on that try and the key takeaway there was that everyone was ready to make that last try happen. No one took a shift off.
They lost to Australia 22-19 and in fact it wasn’t quite that close as it was 22-14 with time essentially up so the Eagles weren’t going to win it. But at one point an Australian player was rucked off the ball but dragged his tackled teammate, who still held the ball, back with him. Penalty ended up against the USA, and that call was a big deal in the game. We wonder what referee Ben Breakspear thought about that play when he (of course) looked at the tape.
“I think obviously Week 1 Day 1 we were a bit inconsistent,” USA Head Coach Mike Friday told GRR. “On Day 2 we put some real performances together to dispose of GB and make the final. Then on Week 2 we played well on Day 1, with new players and evolving players improving and moving forward.”
And then …?
… And then it wasn’t so pretty. The Eagles were flat-out poor against France, who out-physicaled them and were better in the breakdown. It was 28-12 but it wasn’t that close. Did France get a call or two? Certainly they got a knock-on non-call that led to a try that in any other game would be called back, but that wasn’t the whole story.
Then they were completely overwhelmed by Kenya. They couldn’t keep the ball, they couldn’t make tackles, and then other players would come in to help and there’d be gaps elsewhere it wasn’t pretty.
“I started the inexperienced boys and they made a lot of mistakes,” said Friday in a not-unkind tone. “Valuable learnings for young players, which they only get from being left in there.”
So he basically did the math, and reasoned that winning 5th wasn’t as important as giving players the experience of playing for 5th and not having someone bail them out.
So instead they took 7th with a well-taken win over Ireland. This is a team that, in the last couple of years, has emerged as an opponent to worry about. The scoreline was 26-19 but it wasn’t that close. With two minutes to go it was 26-7 and Ireland did not have enough time to score three times.
We saw some really nice flashes from Fuala’au, whose acceleration and vision could be special. Lacamp made a few mistakes, but he makes them at 100 miles an hour and he works very hard. He’s quick, gets to quick in a few steps, and knows how to score.
Joe Schroeder has been really solid, getting a ton of work done. Folau Niua is smooth as ever but he is a little beat up, of course, so Friday has to keep an eye on him.
“Schroeder has gone from strength to strength,” said Friday. “He’s also leading very, very well. He’s stepped up and he’s got a fantastic engine. I am really please with how he went in Dubai.”
Meanwhile Friday said he’d like to see Fuala’au take control of games. He has that ability; he did it to spark the win against Kenya on Day One.
Logan Toga is an interesting case. Here’s a guy has a bit of a football pedigree (although to listen to the World Rugby announcers it was getting more impressive each game, from an undrafted tryout with the Seattle Seahawks to a full-on player with them … we’re waiting for him to get credit for making the Pro Bowl soon). Toga is the obvious heir apparent to Danny Barrett—a powerful forward with a bit of pace who can get the ball back on the off wing and truck defenders.
But he’s not doing that yet. He’s had moments, but what we want to see Logan Tago flatten guys; we want to see Logan Tago stand strong and make a clean pass when stopped; we want to see Logan Tago tackle guys who take a long time to get up.
Baker is assuming bit more of a physical role, but he’s still got it was 34. Isles is playing with so much desire. American rugby fans are fortunate to have both of them still with the program.
And Kevon Williams. We’re not going to go crazy with superlatives but his emergence as captain is something to see. Sometimes the captaincy is a burden. For him it seems to goad him to take charge as a player, too.
“Kevon’s been an outstanding part of the squad for the last three or four years,” said Friday. “He’s always been vocal and direct with the coaches and he also leads by example. He doesn’t always get it right but he accepts that; how he handles that shows great humility. He is consistent in word and consistent in action and he’s working hard to be a 14-minute man.”
Yeah, we’ll go along with that.
With a bunch of young players looking to break into this team, how the future is bridged is important. What we saw these past two weeks was rocky and unpolished at times, but also encouraging.
“It’s exciting times,” said Friday. “I would take this finish, but after how we did after Week 1 we probably let ourselves down. In my mind we probably should sit 2nd or 3rd overall.”
The USA sits 4th after South Africa, Argentina, and Australia.