LAS VEGAS, USA – Some days, the are no words to describe the topsy-turvy 2014/2015 version of the World Rugby HSBC Sevens World Series . Unfortunately for journalists, we are paid to find words for days or should we say, ‘tournaments’ like this. It is not hype to call this season, one of the most unpredictable seasons in the history of the series, because there is plenty of steak to this sizzle. The 5th leg of the series, the Las Vegas 7s, was filled with insane matches, unlikely pool winners and though we didn’t predict that Fiji would win it all, we can claim foresight in predicting the USA making the cup semi-finals.
USA Finishes 4th:
The @Eagles7s had a very good tournament. They went undefeated in their pool, topping a pool for a second consecutive tournament. They also made it all the way to the cup semi-final before taking their first loss and finishing 4th. The Eagles were drawn into an weak pool when compared to the other pools. They once again began their tournament with a gift from the schedule makers, as Japan was first up. The USA were in a merciless form as they won, 52-12. The Eagles couldn’t be stopped from the opening kickoff. The passes were slick. They were breaking tackles and doing all the little things right like it was a training run. The only knock was that Martin Iosefo was shown red with two minutes to go, leaving the USA to play a man down. It was then that Japan was able to score two tries and avoid the shutout. Following that win, the Eagles went up against Portugal and won 19-7. The Eagles had to change gears after the ease of the Japan win was contrasted by the difficultly of the Portugal win. Os Lobos would not go away quietly and forced the USA to be much more patient on attack and strike at just the right time. With all their men on the field, the USA defense held out well.
Day 2 for the Eagles saw them go undefeated again but not quite how you imagined. Because they had already qualified for the Cup playoffs, the Eagles once again had to get around South Africa to top the pool. The USA started slow and made silly errors that put SA in the lead by the half. In the second half, USA went on to take the lead by an unconverted try with a minute left. They would be denied the win as SA scored at the death but missed the conversion kick to end the game as a tie, 19-19. The Eagles then went on to the Cup quarterfinals and took on arch-rival Canada. After blowing a 15-0 lead in their cup quarterfinal in Wellington, the USA was not going to blow the opportunity for a win in front of their home fans. It was an empathic performance as four Eagles (Danny Barrett, Folau Niua, Zach Test and Carlin Isles) scored and the team shutout Canada 20-0 to make the Cup semi-finals. The USA defense was once again fantastic but the really impressive aspect was watching them play smart patient rugby. They picked their moments and struck with precision on attack.
The third and final day for the Eagles saw them experience their first losses of the tournament. As a reminder of how far they have come but how far they still need to go, they took on the mighty All Black 7s side. It is not that the Eagles didn’t put up a huge fight– because they did. However, when you play a top 4 team like the ABs, the margin for error is small and that was all the difference as the ABs won 26-12. Following that loss, the Eagles had to bounce back and play South Africa once again but in the 3rd place match. It appeared that the effort the USA put forth in their match against New Zealand drained them in their match against South Africa. This was a recipe for trouble with South Africa desperate to keep pace with New Zealand in the overall standings. The Blitzbokke came out on fire and didn’t let up as they took the Eagles down, 31-0. The fourth place finish and 15 points that came with it were the best USA finish since 2010. It was hugely important that such a great performance was on home soil to boost the morale of the players and followers. The naming of the tournament’s dream team shows this as 3 eagles were named, more than any other nation. Compare that with only 1 named in the Wellington leg and the team is consistently getting better.
Now to the winners…
The Fabulous Flying Fijian 7s:
The Fiji 7s side put together their best performance since the first round in Australia. They once again found the ability to trust each other and work together. They avoided stupid penalties and finally had a defensive effort to match their attacking exploits. They beat New Zealand to win their pool. They then had to knock off South Africa in the Cup semi-final and New Zealand again to win the tournament. The victory in the final was also memorable as it was a dominant performance.
South Africa remains first in the overall standings but the gap is closing in as New Zealand and Fiji are keep the heat on. The loss to Fiji in the Cup semi-final made the 3rd place match all the more important. They really did need to beat the USA in the 3rd place match because the extra two points were vital. They now lead New Zealand by only 5 points and Fiji by 7. This meant that there can be no off tournament for the Blitzbokke or they could see their lead at the top vanish. They desperately need to win one of the next two legs for added breathing room. The same goes for the the chasers New Zealand and Fiji if they hope to take the lead.
Australia are still in fourth under the leadership of Welshman, Geriant John. They are a bit out of winning it by being in fourth but they are in the driver’s seat for the last Olympic spot. In previous years, the Aussies would fade under Coach John, this has not been the case. They managed to bounce back from a loss to NZ in the Cup quarter-finals to beat Canada in the plate semis and England in the Plate final. Kenya, seems to have finally ‘pulled their thumb out’. After letting politics disrupt the rugby process by having them drop veteran players and chase away Paul Treu, they played well in Wellington and continued it in Vegas by winning the Bowl. Portugal won the shield and considering the loss of a number of the first choice players to the European Nations Cup, it was a very impressive feat.
Final standings were
Second: New Zealand
Third: South Africa
Bowl: Kenya (Watch them celebrate)
The next leg will be the godfather of them all, Hong Kong at the end of March. Stay tuned to RWU for another preview and review of that tournament.
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