CHULA VISTA, CA: With the second round of the IRB HSBC Sevens World Series in Dubai on the horizon, we wanted to tackle a few of the talking points from a USA Rugby perspective about the first round in the Gold Coast. This first tournament generated positive vibes but serious questions as well.
Player/Coach: In this age of specialized coaches for many facets of the game (breakdown, set piece, skills & handling etc.), it is tough to accept the notion that a coach can also be a player. As a result, there was immediate groans when Matt “Polar Bear” Hawkins said he would be a player/coach. Interestingly, he is just coaching in Dubai. That is the hope of all parties.
Slow Start (3-3): Saying that the USA is infamous for slow starts to the series is like noticing water is wet. They had a poor showing in a warm-up tournament in Fiji and lost their first two games to New Zealand and Kenya, one juggernaut and one rising powerhouse. It was not the losses as much as they looked like they never got off the plane. They beat non-core Tonga – a bare minimum as one should always beat a non-core team. They started day two with a loss to Scotland before beating Spain and Portugal to win the shield. A good finish but again a loss to start the day. Not sure how they get out of the early match funk. Maybe take on a local club side 10 v 7 before the first match of the day? Who knows – other than Tom Clayman. 😉
Winning the shield: By winning the Shield, the Eagles left with 3 points instead of 1. This is a big positive for the team and program. Last season it took them until after the midway point to collect any silverware. In the race to avoid relegation every point is precious, so the 2 extra points will mean a lot at the end of the season when the standings will be critical.
Team changes (+/-): 3 new players were capped in this first tournament: Pat Blair, Ryan Matyas and Stephen Tomasin. It is likely another 3 to 5 will also be capped before the 2013/2014 series ends. Hawkins has stated he will enter developmental sides in smaller tournaments and wants a 30-deep player pool to put pressure on the guys, as no spot will be safe. This all sounds good but the pool is not that deep now and when he drops an under-performing star, how will the team react? Especially if the replacement plays poorly. Hawkins maybe backing himself into a corner.
Optimist’s View: The optimist would currently view the USA start to the season as positive. Early trophy, blooded new talent, overcoming a slow start… all with a coach still learning on the job. This leaves vast room for improvement and improved finishing.
Cynic’s View: Again, we started slowly and were lucky to get by two other teams with new coaches to win a trophy. How long will the player/coach situation last?
RWU View: The steep learning curve has to be understood and respected by all. As long as we chose a domestic coach, this was bound to happen and Polar Bear is the arguably the most qualified domestic candidate available. The slow start issues are an enigma only the players themselves can solve. However, all things considered, winning a trophy in the first tournament and blooding 3 players is a very positive step for a Tier 2 program under a new coach.
Now Looking Forward
Looking forward to Dubai, it is nice to see that Coach Hawkins will be on the sidelines only. Also, he has brought in a mix of experience and youth. Hawkins is looking to blood two more players, so Pono Haitsuka and Zac Mizell have been added. That means the squad will have 2 guys with 0 caps and 2 with 1 cap (Pat Blair and Stephen Tomasin). Carlin Isles and Brett Thompson only have a season under their belts, so the old men of the squad will be Nick Edwards and Zack Test.
With so much youth and a strong showing in Dubai, perhaps the Polar Bear will remain with a clipboard in hand. Hawkins is a forward-thinking man and USA is in the Group of Death, so guidance is imperative. The prediction here is they will finish bottom of the group but win the Bowl.
Here is the roster, staff and schedule for the Eagles:
Men’s Eagles Sevens | Emirates Dubai Rugby Sevens 1. Carlin Isles 2. Nick Edwards 3. Andrew Durutalo 4. Nu’u Punimata 5. Zack Test 6. Brett Thompson 7. Folau Niua 8. Pat Blair 9. Pono Haitsuka 10. Zac Mizell 11. Stephen Tomasin 12. Miles Craigwell
Men’s Eagles Sevens | Coaching Staff Matt Hawkins – Head Coach, Dave Williams – Assistant Coach, Paul Goulding – Performance Analyst, Brian Green – Athletic Trainer, Jeffrey McCarthy – Manager, Dr. Mark Scholl – Team Doctor
Men’s Eagles Sevens | Emirates Dubai Rugby Sevens v Fiji – Friday, Nov. 29 – 2:16 A.M. ET; v England – Friday, Nov. 29 – 6:24 A.M. ET; v Canada – Friday, Nov. 29 – 9:02 A.M. ET
That’s it for now… but we will be back later this week a pool preview of the Dubai 7s Men and Womens division as well as a recap of the USA Collegiat 7s National Championship. In the meantime, feel free to comment below, look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter @: RugbyWrapUp, Junoir Blaber, DJ Eberle, Nick Hall, James Harrington, Cody Kuxmann, Jaime Loyd and Declan Yeats, respectively.
And until the next time… stay low and keep pumping those legs.