GOLD COAST, AUSTRALIA – He’s a confident man, that Mike Friday. But even the new USA Eagles 7s Head Coach must have had his nerves flutter a bit. This was not Kenya he was brought in to fix/transform/save; it was the United States. And that’s not taking away from Kenyans – we have a rugby crush on them – but the USA is an enormous nation. Its rugby future depends on a qualifying spot for the 2016 Olympic games.
So, in walks the former England 7s scrumhalf-turned-Director of Rugby for the London Scottish. He’s faced with a program in shambles, extremely limited resources, and the unspoken truth that Team USA not making the Olympics could not only be a devastating blow for America, but for the growth of rugby worldwide. That’s some pressure.
Yet the bespectacled one, who will often sport the odd tank top, hasn’t flinched. He’s taken on the challenge in an almost awkward hybrid role of Director/Visiting Coach, with Chris Brown and Alex Magleby helping considerably. This is unprecedented support for a USA Rugby coach, and certainly not something his doomed-from-the start predecessor Matt Hawkins ever had.
But desperate times call for desperate measures and USA Rugby Chief Executive Officer Nigel Melville, who was Friday’s coach at London Wasps, finally brought in not just the right coach – but the right coaching team.
Is it too little, too late?
If the events in the Gold Coast 7s are any indication, no. Zack Test scored a whopping 7 tries (and his 100th IRB 7s overall) and newbie Perry Baker – who’s just a hair slower than Carlin Isles – added 6 more as the new-look Eagles rebounded from an uneven but competitive Day 1, to win all three of their matches on Day 2.
After just beating arch-rival/nemesis Canada 17-15 in Coach Friday’s debut, Team USA dropped a heart-breaker to eventual 3rd-place finishers, England, 14-7. That was followed by a rocky performance vs sneaky-good Argentina. With a bounce, they could have been 2-1.
Day 2 started with a must-win vs Japan. In the past, the Eagles have failed too often in these situations. This time, they did not. They pounded the Japanese 26-5 and then dominated Portugal in the Bowl Semifinal, 33-0, setting up a battle with France in the Bowl Final.
Again, the Eagles did not disappoint. And to be honest, this reporter was pleasantly surprised. The 33-15 triumph was emphatic and much-needed, as every point is crucial. 8 points, a 4-2 recored and 9th place is a very solid start.
As for the rest of the Gold Coast 7s action, it’s worth watching if you can. Just terrific. And it left our prognosticators scratching their heads as nothing went to script. Fiji won the whole thing after defeating Pacific island rival Samoa… England surprisingly shut-out South Africa to win Third Place… New Zealand didn’t even make the cup semifinals. They had to settle for 5th, defeating Argentina for the Plate… The USA’s northern neighbor, Canada, handily defeated a downtrodden Kenya to win the Shield, salvaging something from a disappointing weekend… We already know the USA finished with the Bowl.
Here are the results:
Final Cup Fiji 31 – 24 Samoa
Third Place England 19 – 0 South Africa
Final Plate New Zealand 36 – 21 Argentina
Final Bowl France 15 – 31 United States
Final Shield Canada 40 – 7 Kenya
That’s it for now. Feel free to comment below, please look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter@:RugbyWrapUp, Junoir Blaber, Nick Hall, James Harrington, Jamie Wall, Jaime Loyd, DJ Eberle, Cody Kuxmann, Karen Ritter, Jake Frechette and Declan Yeats, respectively.