WESTWOOD, CA – Earlier this week, fellow RugbyWrapUp contributor Jake Frechette addressed the imprecision of the notion that the USA is world rugby’s “sleeping giant,” and I couldn’t agree with him more.
Last weekend’s HSBC 7’s World Series stop in Las Vegas was just one indication that the USA isn’t sleeping on the game of rugby. The vibrant display of world-class rugby put on by the Eagles in front of a record-breaking 80,000+ crowd over three days shows both the country, and the world, that the United States is ready to turn potential into real, tangible success. We’ve seen glimpses of what the future holds in store, notably in appearances in the Cup playoffs at five of six HSBC World Series stops this year.
With the rise of the USA Men’s 7’s program, especially with their build up to the 2016 Olympiad, two names stand out amongst the crowd who showcase the huge progress the United States 7’s squad has enjoyed in the last few years, head coach Mike Friday and current squad member Danny Barrett.
Friday, currently in his second season as head coach for the Eagles, has turned the United States into one of the world’s most formidable opponents, leading the USA to its first ever tournament championship at last season’s Marriott London 7’s and a string of high class finishes in many of the season’s tournaments. Barrett, currently in his second season playing for the Eagles 7’s, has been capped on both the Eagles 15’s and 7’s, has made the transition from a 15’s forward to 7’s player quite well, garnering popularity amongst friends for his bursts speed and unwavering brutality.
Thankfully I was able to catch up with these two out in Las Vegas last weekend and get their insights on the USA’s performance at the USA 7s, their mentality as a team, and what they believe the Eagles need to rival the likes of current series leaders, Fiji.
Ronan Nelson: After a fourth-place finish at this year’s USA 7’s, how would you rate your team’s performance and the weather play a role in hindering your side’s performance?
Mike Friday: Well, if I’m honest with you I think they’ve shown immense attitude and resilience in the way that they’ve had to stay in the fight because, you know, it’s been such a rough tough tournament. I think we also have to be honest and look at some of the mistakes in the semi-final and in the third-fourth place game which where in our control; we need to eradicate [those mistakes] from our game if we truly are to go to the next level. We are more than capable of doing that and that’s what we need to aspire to do, that’s what we need to work hard on on the training ground to achieve because they’re things we can get right. That wind, those weather conditions were treacherous but they’re not an excuse for our players, especially with the ability that our boys have.
Nelson: What does your team need to improve on to be able to beat top like South Africa and Fiji, both of whom he lost to this weekend?
Friday: Well, I think the reality is we are more than capable of beating these teams, I think some of our inaccuracies there came back to hurt us. I think, if I’m brutally honest, in that Fiji game I think they should’ve been down to five or six players on more than the occasions they were. They got very lucky, they rode their luck, and we had opportunities in that game didn’t we? We just dropped two or three passes which is the difference at that level. It’s ruthless the game of sevens, especially when you get to the semifinals and finals. We’re not far off, we just need to get a little bit of consistency and improve our execution at the real pressure times, that’s the challenge.
Nelson: What are some of the things the team needs to work on going ahead to Vancouver next weekend?
Friday: First and foremost we have to see who’s fit and healthy, we have to get 12 fit and able bodies recovered, and then will just look and reflect on the little bits and pieces we need to get better at. During this next week we will maintain and build on the aspects of our game we excelled at this weekend, and we’ll build on the resilience and great we showed this weekend. I think we are really seeing the determination and work ethic for the squad really growing as the season progresses.
Nelson: Thanks very much good luck next weekend.
Friday: No problem, thanks.
Danny Barrett (Post cup semi final against Fiji)
Nelson: In the game as big as this one, what’s the team’s mindset going into a match against the Fijians?
Barrett: first and foremost we need to stop there offloads, they’re the best offloading team in the world, they have the least amount of reps per game. Just being able to corral them and shut down their offloading game is huge. As a team we pride ourselves on being the best in the world at regaining possession off restarts, retaining possession off kicks start, so that’s where we try to start our game against any opponent. We need to be clinical and execute in this game and we just were precise enough.
Nelson: How do you think you did in the tournament overall this weekend and how is it different from the disappointments in the last two rounds of the series?
Barrett: No matter what way you look at it we are playing for third place this weekend so that successful enough in itself. We are making and learning from our mistakes and hoping to capitalize on opportunities so we can get into cup finals in the future.
Nelson: What’s the mindset going forward Vancouver next week?
Barrett: A top four finish, we always want to be in the top four and show everyone that we are one of the top four teams in the world. We need to be able to back up what we did here and improve our performance. Going into the next stop we want to be able to prove that we are not just a one off team and that we can maintain a level of consistency week in and week out.
Nelson: Thanks very much Danny.
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