GREENWICH, CT – Since Mike Friday took the reins of the @Eagles7s squad in 2014, the team has seen its place in the standings rise in the Sevens Series rankings from 14th to 6th the past two years. Friday in some ways could be called the seven’s version of Eddie Jones. He is able to very quickly set up a system that revolutionizes and develops struggling nations with immediate effects. This was first seen with his turn around of the Kenyan squad during his sole year there in 2012-13 where he helped them finish the best they had ever done at 5th place after previously finishing 12th. With the USA, he has brought us the Eagle’s first defeat of the All Blacks and a tournament championship. However, after a disappointing performance in Rio that saw the USA fail to get out of the pool stage and two years of identical finishes in the Seven’s Series, it feels like there is a glass wall that needs to be shattered by the Eagles. Will this be the year?
It seems that Friday is not content with being stating static. With the development of PRO Rugby, new faces have popped up across the domestic scene and Friday has certainly made the most of this. He was spotted at the PRO Rugby “Championship” between the Aviators and Stampede this summer and at the High Performance Camp in early October there were four PRO Rugby players in attendance including Spike Davis and Alex Elkins. There has also been a focus on bringing up young talent. During the pre-Dubai camp five of the players were in college and there were even two high school players, Naima Fualaau and Ryan James, brought up for the experience. In the squad named for Dubai, there will be four new faces. I see Friday trying to increase the competition for roster spots in order to raise the level of play of the team.
Despite many changes, this season will see many familiar faces anchor the team. Captain Madison Hughes will be there to lead and speedsters Perry Baker and Carlin Isles will be threats for the US. As well, the regulars like Danny Barrett, Folau Niua, and Maka Unufe will help strengthen the cohesiveness of the team. It looks like Andrew Durutalo is here to stay for a bit it seems after returning from the Sunwolves of Super Rugby for the Olympics. His experience and strength will certainly help the Eagles.
There is a good balance between new rising talent and experience on this year’s Eagle’s team. Is it enough to improve from from last year? Well, it’s apparent that Friday is doing everything that he can to change the culture for the best and the USA has shown it can beat any other team if the conditions are right. His particular focus on fitness has made the Eagles a threat for the full fourteen minutes and as a result, team like New Zealand, South Africa, and Australia no longer see the USA as a pushover. The issue is consistency. Hopefully in Friday’s third year as coach, his coaching philosophy has permeated the 7s program and his vision can finally come to fruition.
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