LAS VEGAS, USA – Vegas baby!! Vegas!! It is time for arguably the largest 7s event in the USA and possibly the Americas. It may not be the most popular one for the players on the World Rugby HSBC Sevens World Series but the city and USA rugby fans love it and turn out in full force for it. The idea that it may be moved to another city or eliminated is beyond madness if World Rugby want to grow the game, as they say. Especially when compared to other under-performing tournaments.
Anyway, the Las Vegas 7s marks the midway point of the 7s series. It is 5th stop out 9 on the circuit. Teams have gone on to resurrect their seasons after a good tournament or go down in flames after a bad one. It is RWU tradition, we analyze the Men’s USA 7s team going into this leg, review the previous tournament’s results and we will attempt to predict the final results of this tournament.
So far over this season’s series the USA has been on an upward trajectory. They started by winning the Bowl in Australia, then in Dubai they had an uncharacteristically poor performance, by this young seasons standards. They bounced back from Dubai with a great performance in South Africa and won the Plate. In the most recent round, in Wellington, they topped their pool but then played poorly in the knocked out rounds and lost the Plate semi-final. It would be foolish to talk about definite qualification for the Rio 2016 Olympics but head coach Mike Friday and assistant coach Chris Brown along with National Program Director Alex Magleby have given USA fans solid belief that it will happen. The team is playing better and is navigating the steep learning curve well but a killer instinct and big game temperament are still lacking. Going into Las Vegas, let’s look at the 3 main issues effecting the US side.
Squad Changes (+/-): There is only one change to the squad from Wellington. The meteoric rise of Ahmad Harajly is put on pause as he is replaced by Pat Blair. This call was made even before Wellington, when Friday announced the squad traveling to New Zealand. If this tournament was not in Vegas, we would not see this change. However, with the team to be on home soil, Brown and Friday made the call. This is because beyond the SWS, the city also hosts the LV Invitational which is one of the premier events for high level 7s events for all senior and age grade rugby clubs. The USA second team, the Falcons will be in the premier division against the likes of a Serevi team featuring former internationals, Tomasi Cama and Ben Gollings. With the USA Falcons in action, it is believed that allowing Harajly to gain quality high level minutes and game time will aid his development more than being a bench option with the Eagles. In for USA Rugby’s latest feel good story is tour vet Blair. Hopefully his experience will make a difference in the tight matches.
Big Game Hunting: Of the top 5 teams in the standings (South Africa, New Zealand, Fiji, Australia, and England) the USA has only beaten Fiji (it resulted in a plate win). This is nothing new for the USA which has had this problem against the top teams for years. However, if they want to ever win a Cup or make the semi-final, it will require the scalp of one of the top teams. They seem to lose focus or self-belief when they play these sides and that must end.
Temperament: In order to be successful against the big teams, they need better big match temperament. In the last pool game against South Africa, in Wellington, they were assured of topping the pool, but instead showing up big against a desperate SA, they lost. They were up against Scotland, 15-0, in the Cup quarters with 4 minutes to go and then they choked and lost 19-15. The USA needs to get better when the heat is on. Pressure can bust pipes or make diamonds, as they say, well the USA has been a busted water pipe to date. They need to be more calm, double their focus, not panic and have trust in the big matches and moments on the tour.
Quick Note: Fan Trev Miller on our facebook page said they “choked”. I said they “dropped in intensity then panicked.” Our own Mr. Harrington chimed in and said that my quote “sounds a bit, well, chokey, to me.” So we agreed on choked.
What does this mean going in to the tournament?
Optimist view: On home ground, the team makes the cup semi-final or final before bowing out.
Cynic view: The team has improved but rather than respond to the pressure of playing at home, they will shrink and at best win the bowl.
RWU view: The back to back double point finishes haven’t happened in what feels like forever, so we are gonna back the boys and predict a cup semi finish.
LAS VEGAS 7s:
The USA 7s has the narrowest field on the circuit. That is because it is played on an American football field. The USA seems to adjust for this better than most. But the pedigree of top 7s sides seems to usually win out so expect one of the Top 5 sides to take it. The only dark horses may be Samoa and Argentina who have won in the past.
Here are our pool previews:
Pool A: New Zealand, Fiji, Samoa, Wales
This is a tough pool. Most likely New Zealand and Fiji will go through to the Cup playoffs. The other two teams in the pool are no slouches so Wales or Samoa could shock Fiji and take on of the two spots but it will likely finish Samoa third and Wales fourth.
Pool B: England, Argentina, Canada, Kenya
We will likely see England beat out Argentina for the top seed. We back Canada to take third as this is close to a home tournament for them as the Canucks come down in droves to support. Though to be fair, it always seems like all of the Kenyans in the USA go to this tournament because they turn up in full force, but the team is not back to its best so they will finish fourth.
Pool C: South Africa, USA, Portugal, Japan
This appears to be the most straightforward pool, if it goes to script but you never can tell in the SWS. South Africa should top it, but if they slip it will go the USA. USA will be second, followed by Portugal, who will be weakened due to the European Nations Cup going on at the same time. This leaves the door ajar for Japan to upset and take 3rd but don’t bet on it.
Pool D: Scotland, Australia, France Brazil
The only thing we know about this pool for sure is that Brazil will finish last. It will be a dog fight for the top two places between Australia, Scotland and France who have all shown great form at separate times this season. Based on most recent form, it will Scotland, Australia then France.
Here are our final predictions:
Cup: South Africa
Third: New Zealand
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.