TOKYO, JAPAN – The 2014/2015 World Rugby Organization HSBC Sevens World Series feels like it has a some sort of artificial intelligence feature. You watch a few legs and start getting a feel for things, you get confident in how a tournament will shake out, you get that one tournament right so you think you know it all. Then a leg like Tokyo happens and you realize – you don’t know anything. In this leg, the USA didn’t make it out of pool play is the top 2 but still salvaged some hardware. The South African title drought continued though their consistency is keeping the top of the Standings. England stood atop the mountain this weekend after all the matches were played.
USA Win Bowl:
The @Eagles7s had two tournaments in one this weekend. After a poor day one that saw their streak of four straight Cup playoffs come to a halt, they bounced back to win the bowl. The USA weren’t done any favors by facing a very fired up Kenya side, who nearly beat the USA in pool play in Hong Kong. This time the Kenyan side were playing with a heavy heart and wearing black armbands in memory of 147 male and female students murdered at Garissa University by terrorists. Combined that with the suspension of the USA’s Folau Niua for all of pool play and it was a recipe for disaster. The USA looked out of sorts – forcing offloads, losing the breakdown and poor discipline. The team defense wasn’t horrible but some missed tackles at the wrong time also lead to some scores. Kenya made the USA have to work and the USA made errors under that pressure, leading to points for Kenya and comfortable 27-5 victory for Kenya.
Following that loss, the USA took on Canada and won comfortably, 22-14. The best finisher in World Rugby 7s and Eagles 7s player, Carlin Isles, scored a hat-trick as the Eagles came out playing much better rugby. There was a sense of urgency to the Eagles play that was lacking during the Kenya match. Obviously, coach Mike Friday had some words with his team in-between matches. Despite how intense the Eagles played in the first half, it wasn’t until the second half when the Eagles put their foot down and pulled away for the victory. The win put the USA in the position of needing to defeat a top 5 side, something they had only down once all series, to win the group and/or qualify for the cup round for the fifth straight tournament. It was not to be against the table topping Blitzbokke of South Africa. It was a brave effort but the same problems plagued the USA as always against the top 5. One too many mistakes and the top 5 team pounces on them, final score 22-14. The lost left the USA at 1-2, the same record as Canada and Kenya. However thanks to tiebreaker of points differential, Canada went through. The USA has gone through on points differential in other tournaments, so “swings and roundabouts” as the English say.
Day 2 for the Eagles saw the Eagles fly high and display their potential. It started when they took on Portugal in the Bowl quarterfinal game and crushed them. Portugal are not powerhouses but they ran New Zealand close in pool play in Hong Kong and defeated Australia on day one. However, with Niua back for the Eagles, this was a much more ballyhooed side. From the opening whistle to the final whistle the Eagles dominated play and imposed their will. The final scoreline of 39-0 reflects that. The Eagles got a chance for a little bit of revenge in the Bowl semi-final against semi-final against Samoa. It was Samoa that knocked the Eagles out of the Cup playoffs in Hong Kong and this was the Eagles chance to return the favor and send Samoa home. The Eagles did just that as they continued their white hot form. They snuffed out the Samoa attack and led by two tries for Isles, the cruised to victory, 22-5.
Once again it was time for the Eagles to attempt to take another top 5 scalp as they faced Australia in the Bowl final. Australia seem to have lost some momentum in Japan. Maybe the hot start to the series is catching up with them. The Eagles had no time for mercy. They went on the offensive but Australia didn’t budge. Isles opening the scoring for the USA but he was not to be the hero speedster on this day. With the score tied at 12-12 and the match in extra time, Perry Baker finished a brilliant move by the Eagles as all seven players on the field touched the ball to contribute to the game winning score. The USA won 17-12, to finish the tournament with some hardware and avenge their plate final loss to the Aussies in Hong Kong.
Isles was named to the tournament dream team, we will have to check with the IRB, errr, World Rugby but this might be the longest consecutive streak of an Eagle making the tournament dream team. Full credit to the Eagles for bouncing back and winning the bowl but under the triumvirate of Alex Magleby (Director of Performance), Mike Friday and Chris Brown (Assistant Coach), we as fans have grown to expect the bowl, so this feel a bit like a letdown. Maybe that has been their greatest achievement, convincing fans that they should expect more.
Now to the winners…
The England 7s team finally put in a complete performance. They were able take on all challengers and win the cup. The title was their first tournament title since the Wellington Sevens of the 2013/14 series. Head coach Simon Amor, a sevens legend in his own right, had been urging his team for a complete performance and they finally delivered as they beat South Africa for the title. They were aided by avoiding New Zealand in the semi-final and facing Canada. They took full advantage of their fortune and once against South Africa, they didn’t let the moment for greatness pass them by. The win moves England up to the fourth and final automatic Olympic qualifier spot, as Australia crash into fifth place.
South Africa are still first in the overall standings and despite not winning the tournament gained some breathing room. This years Blitzbokke is a there or there-abouts team. Their lowest finish of the season was fourth in Dubai. Since then it has been first, second or third, as such, they have been able to open up their lead over Fiji to four points since they made the Tokyo final and knocked Fiji out in the Cup semi-final. Fiji bounced back from that semi-final defeat to beat Canada and win third place in the tournament, keeping pace with South Africa.
The shock of the tournament came in the cup quarterfinal game between Canada and New Zealand. It was the try heard around the world as Conor Trainor scored the try that helped Canada achieve a historic first ever win against New Zealand. Canada went on to lose to England in the semifinal and Fiji in the third place match. New Zealand regained their bairings and won against France and Scotland to take the Plate. We know the USA took the bowl but the team they crushed in Bowl quarterfinals, Portugal, rebounded to console themselves with the Shield. The remain ahead of host Japan, who achieved a first by making the Cup playoffs courtesy of points difference and two draws. However it was a major achievement for them and one we predicted as we noted they would be emboldened by their home fans.
Final standings were
Second: South Africa
Plate: New Zealand
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