Can Eagles 7s Make a Move?
Can Eagles 7s Make a Move?
Can the Eagles make a move?
Well, they can try, but really the next few World Series tournaments are about holding steady.
The United States sits 5th in the World Series, which is a pretty nice place to be. But they are 17 points out of 4th, and 33 points out of 3rd.
How hard will it be to move up? Well, think of this way:
Let’s say the Eagles win all four remaining tournaments in the World Series. They would end up with 155 points for the season. To pass that 155, current World Series leaders South Africa only needs to average 9th in the remaining tournaments (they haven’t finished worse than 2nd all season). For 2nd-place England, passing 155 would mean averaging 5th over the four tournaments. They have finished 5th or better five out of six times this season. And for 3rd-place Fiji would have to average between 4th and 5th - something they have surpasses four times.
Really those three are out of reach. The USA, even if they win all four remaining tournaments, can’t realistically make the top three. (And really, no one is going to catch South Africa; they’ve got the championship sewn up.)
But … it’s possible, somewhat possible, that the Eagles can pass mighty New Zealand. To do that, they need to play really well, and they need New Zealand to play relatively poorly. But, it’s possible, and the drive to do that starts in Hong Kong.
USA Head Coach Mike Friday has chosen an experienced and capable
Danny Barrett, after a weirdly off tournament in Wellington has been one of the best 7s players in the World Series the last three tournaments. He’s not going to play in the first game, mind you, because he’s got a suspension to finish off, but he’s still going to be a crucial part of the Eagles’ efforts. Ben Pinkelman is not the same kind of 7s forward as Barrett, but he’s been playing well. He’s tenacious in contact, rather than a steamroller (he holds his position and offloads rather than just flattens people); he’s a pretty good passer, and he’s very good in the air.
Andrew Durutalo is back to his old self after a bit of an adjustment period. Madison Hughes seems to be healthy and knows what he’s doing. Folau Niua has been really good, especially in the rucks, and Maka Unufe, Stephen Tomasin, Martin Iosefo, and, of course, Perry Baker all are World Series vets. (Baker is 3rd in the Series in tries, with 24.) This is a team that has a combination of long-striding runners, and powerful inside players.
But, they are going to need contributions from the additional players. Matai Leuta is a long-striding back who can be sort of a second Maka Unufe, if h passes as well. Unufe is a very good passer, and that’s his skill that many can overlook.
Anthony Welmers will have to step up as a forward presence with Barrett’s absence in the opener. Malon Al-Jiboori kind of as to take on Pinkelman’s role from 2015-16, a super sub who can cover a variety of roles.
And then there’s Mike Te’o. If you want to bet on any player coming from 15s to 7s and just handling it and not getting timid, it has to be Te’o. He’s just such a comfortable rugby player, and he gets underestimated so often, it’ll be fun to see him inserted anywhere.
All of these players have to be excellent in order to out-play New Zealand over the next couple of tournaments. But perhaps more important than breaking into the top four is the need to solidify 5th place. The Eagles have shown good form of late, and in the last two tournaments have moved ahead of five teams, Australia, Argentina, Scotland, Wales, and France. But Australia is just five points behind the Eagles, so the USA needs to keep playing well.
That means finishing in the top two in every pool, and it means winning at least one game on Day Two.
This weekend in Hong Kong, the Eagles are in good shape. They have Russia, Argentina, and Scotland in their pool, all teams the Americans should be able to beat handily if they play their game. These are also three teams that have a history of giving the Eagles fits. Captain Hughes and his players can’t let that happen.
The key game? That has to be the opener against a physical, uncompromising Russia, without Barrett in the lineup. If they get by that game, they are on the way to holding on to the gains they’ve made.
USA Roster for Hong Kong 7s
1. Anthony Welmers
2. Ben Pinkelman
3. Danny Barrett
4. Matai Leuta
5. Mike Te'o
6. Andrew Durutalo
7. Folau Niua
8. Maka Unufe
9. Stephen Tomasin
10. Madison Hughes (C)
11. Perry Baker
12. Martin Iosefo
13. Malon Al-Jiboori