MANDELA BAY, SOUTH AFRICA – Welcome to beautiful Nelson Mandela Bay, a small district of the greater Port Elizabeth area in Eastern Province, South Africa. This location has hosted the Mandela Bay Sevens, the South African leg of the World Rugby Sevens World Series for the past couple of years – which is becoming increasingly popular every year. Before we proceed, let’s first address an annoying element re the previous sentence: Let’s hope that the organization formerly known as the IRB – World Rugby – will drop the “World” part from the “Sevens World Series” because “World Rugby Sevens Series” sounds less confusing.
Now on to the business of our South Africa 7s Preview: USA Rugby Analysis and Predictions.
The Mandela Bay 7s is the third stop on the 7s circuit. It will close out this calendar year and marks the completion of the first third of the series and is a good indicator as to where on the table a team is likely to finish. As we have been, we’ll look at the Men’s USA 7s program going into this leg, the whole tournament and we attempt to predict the final results.
After an impressive Bowl-winning start to the series in Australia, the Eagles were humbled in Dubai. Maybe when the series expands to 12 legs instead of nine and the first and second legs are back-to-back, like legs two to nine, the Eagles will have a stronger second leg.
For now, let’s focus on the present. At present, Head Coach Mike Friday and Assistant Coach Chris Brown have begun a process of creating great internal competition for places as National Program Director Alex Magelby tries to expand the talent pool. This, however, does not change the fact that the Eagles have been challenged with a cliff-face sized learning curve. Let’s look at the 3 key issues facing the side going into the SA 7s.
Experience: Former captain and series veteran Nick Edwards was made a non-traveling reserve for these two legs. Mike T’eo and his 7s caps were also left at home. Considering the pressure and intensity at this level, you have to wonder if keeping one of the two, most likely Edwards, would have been advisable.
Moby Dick: We know the likes of England, New Zealand and other traditional 7s powers do not go down easily. However, it seems that, against these powers, the USA either starts out flat or falls off near the end. Yes, it is a tough ask but until the team can find the self belief to close out win against a powerhouse, making the cup semis will be out of their grasp.
Decision-Making: We have a tradition of picking three issues but naming this as a third issue was tough. It was difficult because we don’t want to seem like we are picking on the side – and truth be told, we are not. We are not saying decision-making is poor but it needs to improve. Eagles are brimming with confidence against the big guns but we still have to be wise. So, yes, attack them with ball in hand; trust your speed against them but don’t get isolated. Don’t force an offload if it’s not there. Do not give an opportunity to a team that will ruthlessly capitalize on mistakes.
What does this mean going in to the tournament?
Optimist’s view: This is only the second tournament under new management. Growing pains are to expected. Progress is not like a gentle, steady slope, it is filled with ups and downs but the key is the ups become higher the downs smaller.
Cynic’s view: We are struggling to do basic things and as great as Friday is he, this program will need the standard of the players to improve.
RWU view: The USA is still lacking that top two percent and it will struggle to get there. It will be an up and down season but five points in Dubai is not that bad considering the number of tournaments the USA finished with a single point last season.
Going Forward: We see the USA bouncing back a bit and making the Bowl final before losing a close one.
South Africa 7s:
The second leg of a back-to-back on the 7s tour can be more unpredictable than the first. It will interesting to see which side has learned from the first leg and is rested enough to challenge for the title. Here are our pool previews:
Pool A: South Africa, Wales, USA and Kenya
With the benefit of the hometown crowd, SA will top this pool. The battle for second is tricky as Wales played well in Dubai but are not the best on a backend of a back to back. The USA is still unknown and SA is the closest the Kenyans get to a home game (though the Kenyans that show up for the Las Vegas 7s beg to differ). We will go heart over head and pick USA second, Kenya third and Wales fourth.
Pool B: Australia, Argentina, Portugal, and Zimbabwe
You have to favor Australia to take this pool followed by Argentina, though it could be flipped. Whoever finishes second will be followed by Portugal and finally Zimbabwe.
Pool C: Fiji, Scotland, France and Canada
Fiji will take this group with ease. The battle for second will be a three-way fight by very evenly matched sides. France wins second based on form, followed by Scotland and then Canada.
Pool D: New Zealand, England, Samoa and Japan
We want to apologize to Japan for being thrown into this group. They are better than fodder but this group is unkind. Japan will be last. We have no idea who will be first as all three nations could be, so we will be cowards and go alphabetically. England, New Zealand and Samoa is our pick.
Here are our final predictions:
Second: New Zealand
Third: South Africa
That’s it for now. Feel free to comment below, look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter@: RugbyWrapUp,Junoir Blaber, DJ Eberle, Nick Hall, James Harrington, Cody Kuxmann, Jaime Loyd, Karen Ritter , Jamie Wall, Jake Frechette and Declan Yeats, respectively.
And as always, stay low and keep pumping those legs.