LONDON, ENGLAND – The 2015/2016 HSBC Sevens World Series ended in brilliant fashion as we saw another first-time leg winner – and unlikeliest of victors – as Scotland were the last standing. That gave us 6 different individual stop winners and 7 in the last 11 legs, going back to last season. Much like every segment this year, we had upsets, incredible matches and brilliant performances. For USA fans, @Eagles7s put forth arguably their best performance all season but no squad could overcome overall Series winner, Fiji, who secured their second consecutive Sevens World Series title.
USA Finishes 3rd:
The Eagles were fantastic in London. They were as good in London as they were poor in Paris. Team USA were adequate but not impressive on Day 1 and then almost perfect on Day 2, as they finished with a win to secure third place. In their opening match against Paris winners Samoa, the USA got dragged into an ugly street-fight of a match. Despite the unattractive play, the USA did what needed to be done and earned the victory, 12-5.
Following that win, the USA was tasked with defeating the Blitzbokke of South Africa. The Eagles were not expected to win and they didn’t. The key though, was that the USA fought like a team possessed. That fight and tenacity meant that South Africa had to dig deep before they emerged victorious by a score of 14-10. The tightness of that match was important because it gave the USA a point differential of +3 going into their final match. The USA had to win or tie in order to make the cup playoffs. The team standing in their way would be none other than their long-time foe and border rival Canada. The Eagles scored a try first but didn’t convert, while Canada responded with a converted try of their own in the first. Canada almost scored another try – if not for the hand of Martin Iosefo – who deftly prevented a Canadian touch down. From there the USA scored a converted try to go ahead but the Canadians refused to give up and scored an unconverted try of their own to tie it up. The match would finish 12-12, as the Eagles knew a tie would do and kicked into touch to end it. Granted, it wasn’t a win in a must-win game but it was successful achievement of a goal.
Day 2 for the Eagles was far more impressive than Day 1. They took on New Zealand in their Cup quarterfinal game. In the tournament preview, we discussed the USA’s failure for the better part of the season to win against a higher ranked opponent or to win a must win game. They managed to get by Canada and now needed to defeat one of the best sides in the world. Surprising to all, it was not as difficult – or didn’t look as difficult – as we expected. Led by four tries by Perry Baker, the USA cruised to a 42-14 victory. That big win was followed-up by a match-up against a surprising Scotland side. In Paris, if you recall, the Eagles lost the Bowl semi-final to the Scots by two and were hoping for revenge this time around. Scotland almost drew first blood but the USA forced a knock-on in the in-goal area. That only delayed the inevitable, as Scotland did score first; a converted try. But the USA responded with 3 tries of their own. Unfortunately, the Americans only converted on one of the three, so when Scotland respond with two more tries – one converted – they were up 19-17 with a minute left. Chasing the game, the USA had a handling error and while trying to save the ball from going into touch, Danny Barrett threw a blind pass that led to a Scotland intercept for the try and win, 24-17. That loss denied the USA a chance to win the London 7s again and sent them into the third-place match.
All the hard work meant Mike Friday’s boys would now have the unenviable task of facing ginger-haired Ben Ryan’s Flyin’ Fijians. Team USA showed great resolve to win that game, leading most of the way before the resilient reigning champions fought back to tie it 19-19. But the Eagles counter-punched, rather than retreat and battled to a well-earned win, 26-19.
Coach Friday wasn’t happy with the way his side gave away the semi-final against Scotland, but they responded well to beat Fiji. “They showed great character and got the win they fully deserved against this Fijian team and that gives us confidence as we move into the Olympic preparations.” Couldn’t have said it better myself. This performance was a much-needed shot in the arm for the program, with Rio looming.
The Scotland 7s program has been chugging along rather nicely. The inventors of 7s have been consistently winning in Bowl rounds and performing admirably. This tournament was their breakout party as they finally put it all together for an impressive run. They were undefeated in pool play with two wins and a draw, finishing second. They then shutout their old enemy, England, in the cup quarterfinals, followed up with the big win over the USA. In the final they came from 21-10 down to edge South Africa in an absolute thriller, 27-26, to win their first-ever tournament.
Fiji have won back to back 7s series. They clinched the title by qualifying for the Cup quarter-finals. They lost big in pool play to England but then came back to thrash Wales and crush Australia to qualify for the cup. Coach Ryan & Co made light work of France in the cup quarter-finals, before falling to South Africa and the USA.
South Africa had a good series but as this tournament proved, their inability to win more legs – despite qualifying for the cup semi-finals or finals repeatedly – proved to do them in… The All Black 7s side once again showed that they are susceptible to a loss by lower-ranked sides, as they fell big to the USA. They bounced back from that loss and went on to win the plate… Wales had a good second day after a poor first day and decided to build on next season with a very positive Bowl win… In the Shield final, Kenya dismantled Russia to leave England with some hardware. The Russians making it to the Shield final means they secured core status for the 2016/17 series, while our friends from Portugal unfortunately have been relegated, and lose core status.
Final standings were
Second: South Africa
Plate: New Zealand
That does it for this year’s series but expect a review of the season for team USA and a preview of the Rio Olympic 7s in the coming weeks from RWU.
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And as always, stay low and keep pumping those legs.