SYDNEY, AUS – The third leg of the 2017/2018 Mens Sevens World Series was fun to watch but unpredictable in the final results. The @Eagles7s, had some great moments – and some struggles – as they managed to finish fourth. For the rest of the world, Australia gave their fans a great show, as they managed two big upsets on their way to the title. Let’s review:
Americans claim fourth:
The @Eagles7s had a slow start in Sydney. Actually, it was just a poor first half. They wouldn’t have another poor half for another 3 matches. On Day 1, against hosts and eventual winners Australia, they came out a little bit flat and before they knew it, found themselves down 19-0 at the half. After a halftime talk filled with fire and fury from head coach Mike Friday, a different Team USA started the second half. The Americans got on the board with one of the Tries of the Tournament from none other than World Rugby reigning Sevens Player of the Year, Perry Baker. The USA had the match tied up 19-19, but a momentary lapse in defense and some Aussie brilliance saw the Aussies score the match-winning try late in the second half… final score 24-19. The loss hurt but there was a bigger loss for the Eagles as Captain Madison Hughes was ruled out for the rest of the tournament with a leg injury… With that, their effort in the next two matches showed depth, as without Hughes, they stunned a Scotland side that had just romped over Canada, 26-12. To secure a place in the Cup playoffs, the USA took on the old enemy, the aforementioned Canada. Unfortunately for Maple Leafs, Baker couldn’t be stopped. He scored 4 tries and set up another on the way to a dominant 40-19 win. This win came at a loss though, as underrated workhorse Stephen Tomasin was also lost for the remainder of the tournament with a knee injury.
The Cup Playoffs began with the USA handed the huge task of knocking off Fiji in front a significant pro-Fiji crowd, as Australia has a solid Fijian base. Unfortunately for those fans, the Eagles were not to be denied. With the Fijian defense focusing on Baker, Folua Niua (my pick for this tournament’s USA MVP) and Maka Unufe took advantage and attacked the middle of the Fijian defense to lead the USA to a 24-7 victory. Now it was on to the Cup Semi-final… without two starters and down to a 4-man bench – with one being a Series debutante. This would catch up with the USA against reigning series champions South Africa. They fought mightily and the match had one of the most insane/intense, back and forth moments in 7s history. But they took a bad yellow and were unable to play the kind of flawless game needed to defeat a team like South Africa, losing 35-7… The loss to the Blitzbokke meant going to the Bronze “medal” match against Argentina. The lack of fresh legs reliance on inexperienced players was evident, as the USA was more error-prone and unpolished. To their credit, Mike Friday’s men fought to score the final try in their 31-10 defeat.
Australia’s 15-a-side has always somewhat overachieved. There, I said it… Considering Rugby League has a dominant presence there, plus the strong competition from Aussie Rules Football, there has been battle for talent. So the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) is always in an uphill battle. Despite that, the 15s team has won two World Cups and is one of the top 5 teams in the world. The Aussie 7s side has often been a training ground for young talent to come cut their teeth then get a 15s contract and move on. The ARU has tried to change that a bit by offering better contracts to keep a few more players longer, so they are not always starting from scratch. That investment and the massive home field advantage paid off, as the Aussies defeated 7s titans New Zealand and South Africa on the way to winning the Sydney 7s. The Aussies never lost and played like a well-organized unit and were dominant in their victories. After their narrow escape of the USA in Pool play, they got stronger as the tournament went on, shutting out South Africa to win the title.
Beyond their loss in the Cup Final, South Africa looked very impressive in 5 wins, proving that they are still the team to beat… In third place, was Argentina, who seem to be making that jump and competing with the USA to become the 5th best team in the world… New Zealand looked strong in pool play and were set to become trouble in the Cup playoffs until they ran into the on-fire Aussies. They went on to bounce back, though, and claimed 5th place… France regrouped enought to win the Challenge Trophy.
Second: South Africa
Plate: New Zealand
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