LAS VEGAS, USA – Our World Rugby HSBC 7s coverage continues, as we touch down in Viva Las Vegas. This is the 5th stop on in the 12 city tour series. Like last time, we will look at the Eagle 7s program and as we did all last season, try our luck at predicting the tournament standings – including the winner.
The USA’s showing in Sydney was flat out unacceptable. The gut-wrenching and disappointing manner in which the USA gave up a 21-0 lead to Kenya to be knocked out of Sydney had everyone shaking their head. In the camp leading up to the squad selection for the Las Vegas tournament, USA 7s Head Coach Mike Friday said “The reality is we need to be better at so many things following the last two legs. We’ve got some real themes in areas that we need to improve as a team but, individually, players have got to step up to the mark and start playing more consistently, making sure they do their jobs and execute the individual roles and responsibilities within the team. So despite the fast start to the series, it appears that the team is back at square one. We are not sure whether the team from the first two legs will show up or the last two legs.
Let’s look at the 3 key issues going into this tournament:
Team changes (+/-): There are 2 changes to the USA squad from Sydney. Garrett Bender has recovered from an injury that kept him out of the legs 3 and 4. Maka Unufe has, hopefully, resolved the personal matter that made unavailable for Australasian legs of the tour. Missing out on a spot are Matai Leuta and Thretton Palamo. Both players are quality players but in competition for places sometimes a poor performance like in Sydney can cost you. Also the return of Unufe into the mix seems to signal and attempt to add another playmaker to the roster over the physical, unseen workmanship of Leuta and Palamo.
Execution: The coach said it himself, players need to execute. We are not talking about set plays here, we are talking about all aspects of the game, especially basics. The amount of knock-ons, isolated runs, poor rucking and bad passes over the last two legs were unacceptable. The team needs to execute the attacking fundamentals and that alone will open space and create opportunities to score and win games, as long as the defensive principles are also executed.
Stepping up: In order to be successful in any team sport, players have to step-up when the pressure comes. You need your solid players to play to their potential which is usually to have a good game, your good players need to play great and your great players need to play special. Everyone one must play to their potential and when called upon to make a play in a crucial moment of the game, that player must be able to do it, whether it be a pass, a run, a ruck or a tackle. This has been missing for the USA recently and they must find their ability to step it up in Vegas.
Optimist’s View: In front of home fans and with renewed emphasis by coach Friday on basics, the USA finish fourth.
Cynic’s View: The Eagles go 2-1 on both days and end up walking away with the Plate in front of their home fans
My View: I want to believe the optimist but I got a feeling they end up in the Plate final this round. Not sure if they win it though.
It is shaping up to be an interesting Round 5. Fiji, New Zealand, and South Africa are part of a three way tie for first in the standings. There is also a two way tie for fourth. This maybe the most open series yet and therefore Vegas is completely there for the taking for at least 5 to 6 sides.
Here are our pool previews:
New Zealand will top this group and will be unlikely to break a sweat. Kenya is getting better and reclaiming their form from previous years. They will finish second in this group. The pick for third will be tough since the on-going 6 Nations B means both Portugal and Russia will have lost some key players to 15s. It is anyone’s guess who will finish third but we selected Portugal based on pedigree.
Australia, who will feature Quade Cooper, and England will go at it like a hammer and tongs for the winner of this group. We don’t know who will win but we are confident the two countries will be the two nations that progress to the cup round. Scotland will put up a fight but they are nowhere near the other two sides in terms of class and will come up short. This leaves lowly Japan to unfortunately bring up the rear.
Fiji will win this group though they will face stern competition from Argentina. A strong Samoan population in the western USA has us predicting that the Samoan fans will help Samoa snag third away from France . Despite a great first two tournaments France are now struggling after losing their flying Fijian, Virimi Vakatawa, to the French 6 Nations team until the 7th round.
The South African Blitzbokke with the return of 15s star Bryan Habana, should be good enough to take this group from the USA. This is a difficult draw for the USA because they have arch-rivals Canada in their group. It will likely come down to the USA versus Canada for second place and previous form or results mean nothing against a rival. As USA fans, you have to believe they will be able to pull this one out. With the Welsh rebuilding their program, they will come in 4th unfortunately.
Final standings will be:
Second: South Africa
Third: 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, James Harrington, Jamie Wall, Nick Hall, DJ Eberle, Jake Frechette, Scheenagh Harrington, Ronan Nelson, Kyle Phillips and Declan Yeats, respectively
P.s… Don’t forget the LVI Tournament taking place around the stadium. Some great rugby to watch – along with the costumes!