DUBAI, UAE – This season’s HSBC Sevens Series carries plays an important role for the USA this year as it will serve as its preparation for the 2018 Rugby World Cup Sevens in San Francisco in July and, for some countries, the Commonwealth Games in Australia in April. All locations for the series remain the same this year except for New Zealand which moved its event from Wellington to Hamilton. The move was made after years of dwindling crowd numbers, and Hamilton is betting that it can change the atmosphere for the New Zealand stop. Additionally, 2017 Hong Kong Sevens Series Qualifier Champion Spain replaces last year’s relegation team Japan.
This past offseason saw several high-profile preparation tournaments pop up which served as a great opportunity for teams to set their rosters for the upcoming season.Octoberfest 7s, Silicon Valley 7s, and Oceania 7s were good testing grounds for teams to play more developmental squads, so results should not be scrutinized.
The competition this season looks tougher than ever. The beautiful thing about sevens is that its anybody season to win it all. Reining champions South Africa who won last year by a comfortable 28 point margin and won half of the tournaments in the series look to continue their dominance this season. Their physicality and speed make them possibly the most dangerous team on the circuit. England made major improvements coming from the Olympics and Dan Norton was key in leading them to second place in 2017. Australia fielded a very young squad last year to develop its young talent, and now they look ready with more experience. They will be gunning continue their success after winning Silicon Valley 7s. New Zealand will be aiming to finish atop the standings after three years removed from winning four titles in a row. Reining Olympic champions Fiji are the most exciting team in the series and are easily contenders for the top spot in the standings.
USA Season Preview
At the Silicon Valley 7s tournament, the USA fielded a squad of many new faces, like many other teams, and ended up finishing second to Australia in a close 12-15 loss. One player who made a name for himself was newcomer Joe Schroeder. The 6’ 5” Schroeder is a product of high school powerhouse Royal Irish, but was unable to play the sport at Trine College and instead did cheerleading. He was identified this past year while playing for 1823 and now finds himself with the Eagles in Dubai. His height and size will make him useful at restarts and lineouts. Pay attention to former Lindenwood standout Malon Al-Jiboori. The U20 captain was contracted away from college to be full time at Chula Vista, and he traveled with the team last year, but only received minimal time. With a year of professional training under his belt, expect him to play a larger role this season as big physical force on the team.
However, the youngest member traveling is Naima Fualaau. The 19-year-old is a product of Life West and excelled as an elusive runner and skillful distributer. He is now part of the residency program at Chula Vista. He will likely serve as a traveling reserve like Al-Jiboori last season. In fact, Fualaau made his first Eagles 7s tour at the end of last season in Paris and London while filling in for Al-Jiboori. Expect him to get some minutes throughout the season as Mike Friday will look to develop the new generation of Eagles.
The return of a healthy Carlin Isles will be welcomed to add to the other veterans who will lead the USA this season. Perry Baker is coming off of a starstudded 2016-17 season that saw him win the World Rugby Sevens Player of the Year along with being named to the 2016-17 Dream team alongside Danny Barrett who will be the anchor for the forwards. Madison Hughes will once again captain the team and provide world-class leadership and rugby IQ.
The Eagles are the team to watch this year as they will be serious competition for a top-three finish after ending last year in fifth place, its best ever. Last season showed that the USA can beat any team (South Africa was a thorn in its side though) and, if it plays at its best, can finish high up in the cup playoffs every time. Mike Friday is a 7s genius who has been able to turn the Eagles from a bottom finishing team to a top-five team. His plan has worked so far, but is this the year they make the leap and crack the top 3?
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