Fiji Wins Men's Olympic Rugby; USA 6th
Fiji Wins Men's Olympic Rugby; USA 6th
Fiji won the Men's Olympic 7s Gold Medal, led by the brilliant Jerry Tuwai and playing some beautiful rugby.
New Zealand took Silver and Argentina, playing the type of tenacious, unflinching 7s they are capable of, took Bronze.
Tries by Meli Derenalagi, Sireli Maqala, and Jiuta Wainiqolo, and a penalty goal (!) from Waisea Nacuqu led Fiji to a 27-12 victory. New Zealand made one crucial error. Andrew Knewstubb chased a grubber back into in-goal and slid down to touch it down. But he, inexplicably, decided to do it with his eyes closed. The ball slipped through his hands, rolled to the side, and Maqala pounced to score.
For the USA, things went along as the entire tournament has gone. The Eagles had moments where they looked every bit a championship contender, and times when they couldn't get out of their own way.
The pressure, and the expectations, have to be intense, for sure, and that was poignently shown in a tweet by Stephen Tomasin after Day Two.
I’m sorry. I let us down.— Stephen Tomasin (@ScubaSteve_09) July 27, 2021
I'm sorry, I let us down. The simple statement was somewhat heartbreaking because Tomasin (who was probably referring to his yellow card against Great Britain) wasn't any more responsible for USA difficulties than anyone else. Up 21-0 against GB in the quarters, the Eagles should have been able to absorb a yellow card.
In the 5th-6th semi against Canada the USA unleashed Carlin Isles to move onward. Danny Barrett fed Isles inside his 22 and the speedster went 80 meters to stake his team to a 7-0 lead, but once again the Eagles gave up a try right before halftime. Harry Jones did the honors and with Nathan Hirayama's conversion tied the game 7-7.
It stayed that way until the final two minutes when the USA stole a scrum put-in inside the Canada 22 and a nice flat ball to Martin Iosefo put the center through for the go-ahead try (Madison Hughes converted).
Once again, the Eagles leaked a try late, this time because their forwards were all caught on one side of the field, leaving the middle open, and it was tied at 14-14. But then Canada screwed up. Harry Jones was sin-binned for an intentional knock-on while the USA was attacking. Eventually the Eagles got going and while Kevon Williams was dragged down, Isles figured, if no one's going to pass to me, I'll just pick it up and got.
That's what he did and the 30-meter run won the game 21-14.
But that was it. In the 5th-place final against South Africa, the Blitzbokke torched the USA 28-7. The Eagles, a medal contender, for sure, ended up 6th.
For the USA, the maddening thing was that this is what happened five years ago in Rio—Perry Baker hardly saw the ball and it was like pulling teeth to see Isles get the ball, too. Even though Isles scored a bunch of tries in Rio, there were several key moments when he was open and players didn't get him the ball, or they ran him out of space.
The Eagles missed Ben Pinkelman, as his lateral movement is a key cog in the defensive machine. They were not sufficiently clinical in he set piece, and had trouble avoiding ruck penalties or turnovers.
Those penalties happen for a few reasons, but basically also all the same reason. The USA players try to go too far too hard in the tackle. The result has sometimes just been the ball popping out as ball, catcher, and tackler all meet at once. But often it also means said ballcarrier goes too far ahead for his support to get there. The more successful teams in Tokyo knew when it was time to just set the ruck.
The USA players needed to be faster in support, the ballcarriers needed to be more secure in ball placement, and less worried about that extra meter, and ideally those ballcarriers needed to be in more control on their feet so they could offload to set the ruck on their terms.
That, more than anything, was the difference for the USA.
Oh, that and the fact that the field of teams in Tokyo was really good.