USA Men A Disappointing 3rd In Madrid
USA Men A Disappointing 3rd In Madrid
The USA Men's 7s team finished the Madrid 7s with a disappointing 3rd place, seeing their hopes for a better finish disappear thanks to a rout delivered by Kenya early on Sunday.
Coming into Sunday at 2-1, the Eagles had only to beat Kenya in the second game of the day to ensure a rematch with Argentina in the final. The USA had lost to the Pumas by just a try on Saturday. But one of the lessons of these types of tournaments is that jet lag and travel and the intensity of international competition really shows itself on Day Two. The Eagles were sluggish—more so mentally than physically—and when they fell behind reacted with a little panic in their step, which led to mistakes.
Kenya, which scored right at the beginning of the game, played superbly. They put a diamond-shaped group of support runners behind the ball and played vertically, and when the Eagles over-committed, sent it wide. Quick and very physical, they showed how World Sevens is better when Kenya is good.
The USA tackling was weak, but down 17-7 at halftime they were within a shout. However, when Perry Baker chipped ahead and gathered his kick, only to be tackled, he didn't get up. The play went on and the Eagles almost scored (almost). But Baker was done, stretchered off with a leg injury and taken to the hospital. It's a massive blow to the USA, and there's hope he won't be out for long, but he was done for the day, and the Eagles deflated after that.
Kenya 38, USA 7.
"Kenya out-muscled us and showed desire is a non-negotiable," USA Head Coach Mike Friday told Goff Rugby Report. Friday used to coach Kenya and they love bringing everything against him. But the Eagles are good enough to reply. What Friday did do was leave most of his veterans on the sidelines, telling the younger players it was their problem to fix.
"We missed too many tackles and were not physical enough with ball in hand or in defense," Friday said in assessment. "I see that performance as a huge blessing for us that we are currently way off in our combat conditioning and ability to apply our physicality which we pride ourselves on. Young and experienced men need to recognize physical fitness is one thing, but combat fitness and resilience is quite another. This is the 70% piece I was talking about at the start of the week, and fortunately we have plenty of time to ensure we are on point when it really matters."
So that left the USA 2-2 and against Spain for 3rd. This game could have gone very wrong. However, Jake Lachina stepped in to fire up the team. The West Point Scholz Award finalist raced around the outside to score early, and then chased down a Cody Melphy chip that he seemingly had no chance to reach, and did just enough to score his second.
#Madrid7s | Gran partido de los @Spain7s de @pfeijoo9 frente a @USARugby que a punto han estado de lograr el tercer puesto. Al final, derrota por 24-17. #VamosLeones @deportegob @COE_es @GENERALI_es @JomaSport @WorldRugby @SingularWOD @iberdrola pic.twitter.com/ffASOqSlDQ— España Rugby (@ferugby) February 21, 2021
Spain exploited a gap and some overpursuit on defense to get one back, and then ran a nice switch move early in the second half to tie it up 12-12. The USA defense over-pursued a lot this weekend, sometimes sending three players on a ballcarrier only to see one of the simplest, and best, plays in rugby, the switch, catch them pointed the wrong way.
Some lovely interplay between Tala Talapusi and Kevon Williams put Williams in under the posts for a 19-12 lead, and that was key because Spain raced past Maka Unufe on the wing to score right after. The try was out wide, though, and the conversion was missed, leaving the USA ahead 19-17. Finally someone else committed a dumb penalty, and when Harley Wheeler was dumped on his head the Eagles pressured. Their kick to touch missed touch, but they got the ball back when Talapusi stole a pass, and the ball was sent to Lachina for his hat trick. 24-17 over Spain isn't world class, but it was a win, and some serious lessons to the players on how you can't take anything for granted.
Argentina beat Kenya handily to win the tournament, Kenya 2nd, USA 3rd, Spain 4th, and Portugal 5th. We'll see what happens in the second week of competition next weekend.