Team USA Eagle 7s star, Matthew “Polar Bear” Hawkins, who is also now working with Serevi, contributes weekly every Thursday on Rugby Wrap Up – technology permitting.
VEGAS BABY!!! Yes, that’s the way most of the world expresses their love for Vegas. I thought as we are a couple weeks out from the USA leg of the HSBC Sevens World Series, which will be hosted by the magnificent city of Las Vegas for the third time, I would start from the beginning and work our way to where we found ourselves now and reflect in how we as Team USA have fared in Vegas, and what it means to have a home leg of the HSBC Sevens World Series.
I’ll never forget the day that I heard the tournament was moving from San Diego, my hometown to Vegas. I was to be honest, a little disappointed and at the same time a little confused. On a personal level it was so great to play in front of my hometown. Plus, the rugby community within Southern California and San Diego itself at that point was really starting to take off. This gave our community and Rugby a great showcase in America’s Finest City. The confusion came in as I wasn’t really sure how people would take to Vegas. Its obviously not the easiest place to coordinate a family vacation, but at the same time its known more of an adults playground. Would the host of families and young kids now be replaced by young adults, using the rugby as an excuse to get away for the weekend?
The first year, as we have done every year since, arrived in Vegas the morning of the Super Bowl. Vegas has an incredible energy about it and the second we all arrived at the tournament hotel, I think we all new that this was going to be a really special experience. The first tournament to be held in Vegas, took place in 2010 and it was all knew to everyone on our team. Staying at the Hard Rock, every time you left your room you strangely enough ended up on a casino floor. And there were constantly hundreds of people no matter what time of day, streaming in and out and around. It was a pretty incredible situation, for not only us as the USA team, but also the other teams. Suffice to say, Vegas is a really special and interesting place to host an event.
The first year, we as a team went through some really difficult times off the field with personal tragedies and what was a very special team, became even more special and we went on to win the bowl that year. Apart from our loss to South Africa, we had a great tournament and really, I think for the first time, could say that we did our home crowd proud and gave them something to really believe in.
We arrived back for Vegas in 2011and again there was a lot of pressure on us as the host team to do well and really replicate the show we put on the year before. To be honest, as a player there is always the pressure to succeed and replicate great team achievements at every tournament and in every game. But is that much more heightened when in your home country – which I believe does more for you a s a player. The extra bit that you’re able to draw both mentally and physically when you have your home crowd behind you is unmatched.
2011 for us was not a great year for us at Vegas. We were really inconsistent and failed to play our best rugby. I know we all were very frustrated with ourselves and it left a pretty bad taste in my mouth for a while.
Looking forward to this year, there is an opportunity to give the USA fans a reason to believe and a performance they can be proud of. We go in to camp on Friday and already the energy and excitement that is flowing within the team is feeling really special. Now we just need to capitalize on that and find our way back to where we know we belong.
I really urge all the USA fans out there, please make the effort and get to Vegas, throw on anything red, white and blue and help give us that edge. We do need you and all the support you show us. I’m excited and I know the rest of the boys are too. That first game is going to be thrilling.