WELLINGTON, NZ: We are at stop number 5 of 9, Wellington, which marks the official midway point of the IRB HSBC Sevens. As part of our latest tradition at RWU when it comes to the 7s circuit we will be tackling a few talking points from the previous stop from a USA Rugby perspective. In addition, we will preview the entire upcoming tournament. The USA walked away with hardware for the second time this series but fans are still spitting nails. South Africa won a second consecutive tournament to take a lead in the standings. Before we break down other side’s results, first, we must take a long look at the USA.
Slow Start: Going 0-2 to start another tournament is frustrating. By the time the 3rd pool match was about to start the USA was eliminated from competing for the Cup. Further frustration came from being drawn into a truly easy pool. They lost very winnable games against very beatable sides. Until this is remedied the USA will not scare anyone.
Coach Hawkins: His selections seemed to be correct. His substitutions had some scratching their heads. The style of play was also frustrating. The USA side usually featured 3 workhorses, 1 playmaker, 2 or 3 runners with Carlin Isles being a finisher/3rd runner when he came on.
Learning to Win: In two of their pool matches and their bowl QF match the USA snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. In the match against Argentina a blind side pick proved our undoing, against France it was poor handling near the tryline and in the final pool match facing Wales it was a poor angle on a tackle. The kind of focus needed to give your team a victory at this level has must be 110% for the whole game. The US clearly does not lack fitness, instead, there is a lack of mental fortitude, especially in the ability to recognize where you are in the game and apply basic skills. These skills will come with time, However, the question must be asked if Hawkins and the USA have enough time to improve before Olympic qualifying begins.
Team changes (+/-): In comes Garrett Bender for the injured Stephen Tomasin and AIG College All-American in both 15s and 7s, Madison Hughes for Nu’u Punimata. Isles will be with the team for this tournament which will be his last.
Optimist view: We have more silverware this year than at this point last year. We are bringing in and blooding loads of new talent also. With a little bit of luck we can hit our stride and make some noise in the 2nd half of the series.
Cynic view: Las Vegas was frustrating for the results as we beat no one of consequence. We look to a game plan of smashmouth 7s. Unless we switch on in the final minute of games expect us to only be winning shields, if that, going forward
RWU view: Frustration is setting in. The inability to finish games and turn “almost won” into real victories is why we trail other 2nd tier 7s nations like Canada, France and Australia. It is not talent, it is composure and trust(in each other and the system). That may not all be on the coach but he still needs to find ways to fix it and instill those missing virtues in those boys.
Going Forward: If the USA is looking for a “put the team on his back” guy, that would have to be Zach Test, as he showed last season and in Vegas, he is one of the best players in the Series. The US needs to have dual playmakers out there to put defenses off. The should look to use a 7 of Andrew Duratalo, Brett Thompson, Danny Barrett, Folau Niua, Shalom Suniula, Test, and Isles. It was Isles’ poor angle on defense that cost the Wales game but if you want to score and give the opposition something to think about, then you need him there.
Wellington NZ 7s:
The tournament allows 7s giants, New Zealand to display their prowess on home soil. Last year’s final between England and Kenya was a classic, hopefully the trend continues. Here are our pool previews.
SA proved in winning the Las Vegas 7s that their previous tournament win at the SA 7s was not a fluke or an emotional lift following Nelson Mandela’s death. They will win the pool, followed by England, who are starting to find their stride. Wales will finish 3rd as a young Portugal side finishes 4th.
No way will the AIG All Black 7s side not top this pool. With this tournament as close as Fiji gets to hosting a tournament, expect a big turnout from all Fijians in the area and them to take 2nd. France will easily take 3rd as lowly Spain will be cannon fodder in this pool.
Arguably the toughest pool since all the contenders are closely ranked. In a coin toss, Canada will build on the momentum of Vegas (plus the boost of returning players from injury- Nathan Hirayama, Sean Duke and Ciaran Hearn). Argentina will take second. We hope, The USA will avoid a bottom finish and instead Scotland finish last. However, we do see this as a pool of 3 teams going 2-1 and 1 going 1-2. Tiebreakers will be needed to decide who goes into the cup.
Samoa like Fiji will be as close to hosting a home leg of 7s as they possibly will get so expect them to ride a big wave of support. Kenya will bounce back from a poor USA 7s tournament. Australia will struggle as they have a tendency to fade over the course of the series. A non-regular side like Tonga can’t hope for much but experience as they will always be outmatched.
With all that factored in the predictions for playoffs are?
Second: New Zealand
Third: South Africa
That’s it for now… 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.