TOKYO, JAPAN – We are now in the second half of the IRB HSBC Sevens Series season, at stop 6 of 9 – Japan 7s. As part of our increased coverage, we’ll tackle a few talking points from the previous segment and preview this leg from a USA Rugby perspective.
The USA walked away with hardware for the third time this series but fans are far from pleased with their results. Meanwhile the AIG New Zealand All Black 7s team won their second tournament to go back atop the series leaderboard. Before we get abroad, let’s look at the USA.
Slow Start: For the 6th straight issue we are talking about a slow start. It is getting beyond ridiculous that lessons haven’t been learned. They kicked away possession against Argentina and through penalties allowed them to win at the death. Against Canada it was a dead heat half way through the game and through poor communication and defense they let them pull away. Against Scotland when a win was needed they couldn’t closeout. The squad can do what they want on Day 2 but it will be pointless after winless day 1s.
Coach Hawkins: Polar Bear seems fixed on having a single playmaker and that seems to be easy for teams to defend. However, by being competitive in matches, it proves that it can be effective. The substitutions and when they are made is the only thing that seems to have people confused because they are either too conservative or swap dissimilar players when a “like-for-like” is needed.
Learning to Win: Again we are back to this point. The issue for the Eagles is not fitness but rather what is between the ears. They cannot seem to make plays need to ensure a win and have been the one making mistakes that cost them. It now be to the point where the side gets so anxious that they are too afraid of making the mistake, to go and get the win or worse yet make the key mistake through over-thinking.
Team changes (+/-): Carlin Isles is out due to his pro contract. Folau Niua is unavailable for the same reason and also he and Shalom Suniula are with USA 15s MNT. In comes speedster Marcus Satavu and powerful utility players Mike Palefau and Mike Te’o.
Optimist view: We have set a new standard with the 3 shields in one series. We are also nearly assured of not being relegated, so the boys are now able to cut lose and play free. More fun should equal better results.
Cynic view: Rugby is the only sport that takes players and immediately makes them head coaches of a national side. It is an antiquated idea and has hurt program development. This team has continued to show they lack the where with all to secure a win and it looks like it will continue.
RWU view: It is getting to the point of desperate hope. Beyond, just wanting the team to win, the team yes yet to give us fans the kind of belief that they can win. In that Argentina game, we got that sinking feeling again as Argentina had the ball with 45 second left on the clock. Until that sinking feeling is replaced with a confident one, fans can only hope for a win.
Going Forward: Someone has to become a gamewinner on the team. Isles was a game changer but he wasn’t a game winner. The 2012-2013 version of Zach Test was. Brett Thompson could a gamewinner as can the newly added Mike Te’o. The team needs all the fundamentals of teamwork and unity but for the best teams when all that breaks down, there is always a Tomasi Cama or someone like that make something happen and help his team win.
Tokyo, Japan 7s:
The tournament could be the one that lets New Zealand breakaway at the top but South Africa is chasing hard. The middle of the pack could get more congested but it doesn’t look like anyone will catch the two sides, barring a miraculous collapse.
Here are our pool previews
New Zealand look to be the odds on favorite to win this pool. Canada will give them a fight but the Canuckies will finish second. Portugal are in pretty poor shape and that should assure them winning behind the rebuilding Wales.
No way does South Africa not win this group. Kenya and Argentina will be in a tussle for the 2nd spot and based on the way the sides have played this season, it appears that Argentina will sneak it. Japan will bring up the rear as all the side not regularly on the circuit finish.
Arguably this may the easiest pool the USA has had outside of the Las Vegas 7s. However the way the side has preformed, they look set to struggle with Samoa and finish third. They could surprise and finish second but that looks like a stretch. Fiji will likely defeat all three though they could struggle with Samoa. France will not be easy as on their day they can finish second also but we are betting on them finishing fourth.
England will dominate this pool without a problem. Scotland are expected to edge out a rebuilding Australia side that lost their coach Micheal O’Connor, who quit after the last round. Spain will bring up the rear as they just don’t seem to have the talent to compete.
With all that factored in, here are our predictions for playoffs and who will walk away from the land of the rising sun smiling.
Cup: South Africa
Second: New Zealand
That is 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, Karen Ritter , Jamie Wall and Declan Yeats, respectively.
And until the next time… stay low and keep pumping those legs.