HAMILTON, NZ – The dust has cleared and the fourth leg of the 2017/2018 Mens Sevens World Series is officially in the books. The @Eagles7s showed a lot of heart and grit to walk away with some hardware from the leg by finishing ninth and winning the Challenge Trophy. For the rest of the world, Fiji bounced back from a less than stellar performance in Sydney to display some of the incredible rugby they have come to be known for. Let’s review:
Americans claim ninth and the Challenge Trophy:
Our Hamilton 7s preview spoke of the need for the @Eagles7s to show their resiliency by continuing to play Cup semi-final quality rugby despite the injuries to key players in Sydney. Fortunately for Eagles fans, they did show that on Day 2 in Hamilton. Unfortunately, for Eagles this came after more adversity on Day 1.
The USA had a slow start in their first game, against the old enemy, Canada. After letting Canada get out in front to a 14 point lead, the USA came back to win the game by scoring 28 unanswered points to win 28-14. The highlight of the match was when World Rugby Sevens Player of the Year Perry Baker officially passed Zack Test as USA’s All-Time Leading Try Scorer with 144 tries (and counting). The match also cost the Eagles fly-half Maka Unufe for the rest of Day 1. This meant the Eagles went into the second game against Samoa with Kevon Williams, third choice center to start the game and first choice center Martin Iosefo playing fly-half. Despite that the Eagle attack still looked good but they were caught with at least 5 penalties for ball-carriers not releasing in the attacking 22, 4 in the first 5 minutes of the game. This would comeback to haunt the Eagles as the score remained 0-0 all. Finally the deadlock was broken by Samoa on a piece of individual brilliance to end the first half up by a converted try. The USA proved they were a second half team by scoring two hard worked unconverted tries to give them the lead. However, the earlier inability to convert attacking opportunities to tries would mean that a piece of brilliant work by Samoa’s wing lead to a try for Samoa at the death to win the game 14-10. Another reason the loss really hurt was that it would have sealed up the pool for the USA meaning more subs could have been used in the third game but that was now out the window.
In the third and final game of the day, the USA had to defeat Kenya to make the Cup playoffs. The USA came out flat in attack and not sharp in defense and they paid the price as Kenya took advantage and racked up 19 points to end the first half up 19-0. The first half also cost the USA Martin Iosefo, meaning Williams was now fly-half as Baker was now center and Carlin Isles was now on the wing. Despite the unorthodox backline, the USA attack was still dangerous as Baker opened up the scoring followed by two tries by Isles. Unfortunately the final try couldn’t be converted and that meant it was tied and courtesy of some 50/50 calls going against the USA in defense, Kenya happily kicked the ball into touch to end the game as a tie was good enough to get them through to the Cup playoffs.
Head coach Mike Friday, admitted that the Eagles were gutted that they didn’t make the Cup playoffs and just frustrated they weren’t able to close out the last two games. The Eagles were lucky to have a healthy team for Day 2 with everyone fit and firing and they set out to make the most of their time in Hamilton and win the Challenge Trophy and that is what they did. First up, was Spain, a side that the USA is better than but can be a tough team to knock out. The Spaniards proved to be tough in the first half as they hung tight with the score favoring the USA, 14-7 at the half. However, in the second half the USA created the space and found room to attack as they pulled away 29-12. It seemed like the USA had found its cutting edge again because next up was Papua New Guinea, who had just defeated France, but they were no match for the USA. The USA ruthlessly punished PNG’s mistakes and yellow card as they won going away 42-12. The Challenge Trophy final opponent would be Argentina, the same team that beat the USA for third place in Sydney. Both sides were looking to complete a rebound from disappointing Day 1. This time the USA got out to a fast start and never looked despite Argentina’s attempts to keep it close, USA won 31-12 to claim the Trophy.
When it comes to sevens, Fiji tend to be the favorites of neutrals all over the globe and the second team of most fans. However the Sydney and Hamilton legs are the closest the Fijians get to a home leg, physically and the antipodean nations have high Fijian populations, meaning the players will have the greatest turnout of their countrymen on the tour. So after not finishing in the top 4 in Sydney, the Flying Fijians were out to make a statement in the Tron. They breezed by in pool play as they put on a show but when pressed in the playoffs, they were unfazed. They seemed comfortable pulling of plays like a last gap 95 meter try to win a game. Regardless who ran them close, they seemed to always have more in the tank as they beat Samoa by 2, New Zealand by 2 and South Africa by converted try for the title.
Though they once again loss in the Cup Final, South Africa looked very impressive in their 5 wins, showing the consistency needed to win the series. In third place, was Australia, who seem to be making their move to be the leader of that second tier pack chasing the usual top 4 sides. They made a statement again as they defeated New Zealand to claim 3rd and move up in the overall standings. As with their South Pacific Island cousins, Sydney and Hamilton are as close to home games as Samoa will get. After sneaking in to the Cup playoffs, they lost an incredibly tight match to Fiji before they went on to win two in a row and claim 5th place.
Second: South Africa
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And as always, stay low and keep pumping those legs.