LONDON, UK – The ninth leg of the 2017/2018 Mens Sevens World Series is finally over. The @Eagles7s had an up and down tournament and finished sixth. For the rest of the world, Fiji won their fourth straight tournament and fifth out of the last six. Let’s review:
Americans finish sixth:
The Eagles cannot seem to stay healthy enough to get the full complement of players back. They seem to have an injury forced game change at one of the two back to back tournaments that make up a series swing. However, they did have a good first day and an ok second day to come just that much closer to locking up the fifth place spot in the standing which would be an incredible feat.
The USA had a solid start to this leg in their first game against Kenya. It is becoming a fast developing rivalry between the USA and Kenya. The Americans have struggled against the Kenyans this season and this match-up was no different. The Eagles got out to fast start as they managed to score two converted tries in the first half and put the pressure on Kenya to have a great second half. Kenya did just that with two tries of their own in the second half. With the game tied at 14-14, they USA fought for a try got one, courtesy of Danny Barrett. Inexplicably with almost no time left on the clock, the USA kicked off short (instead of deep into the Kenyan half) and failed to secure the kick. With no time left, Kenya was able to score in the corner but unable to convert the kick so the match ended as a draw 19-19. Next up for the USA were tournament hosts England. This time the USA got off to a slower start in the first half and England set the tone and ended up going into halftime leading 14-5, giving up the 5 pointer at the end of the half. In the second half, it was the USA that asserted itself and took the lead. And just as England looked to claw back into the match, a yellow card was given to their speedster Dan Norton. This led to the USA putting more points on the board and dominating the match to win 31-14. Although undefeated, the USA needed to win their final match against England to make the cup playoffs. The USA rode the momentum from their England wing and put the French away early by running out to a 24-7 lead in the first half. In the second half, there was no let down as they cruised their way to a 38-14 victory.
The Eagles seemed set for bigger and better things but that was not to be the case. First, head coach Mike Friday, announced that Matai Leuta, was injured and out for the remainder of the tournament and was to be replaced by the rookie Faitala Talapusi. Then the USA ran into this tournament’s Cindarella, Ireland, if Cindarella was a buzzsaw. Ireland were the tournament’s invitational side but rather than be cannon fodder like most invitational sides they turned the tables and showed that converting a nation of 15s players to 7s was possible. Before the USA could really get going they found themselves down 17-0 at the half. The USA fought back to close the gap but it was already too late as they became Ireland’s second victim by the final score of 22-12. After that shocker, the USA faced their oldest foe, Canada in the 5th place semi-final match. This time the USA played much better but as the teams know each other so well, it ended up being an old fashion shootout. It felt like the last team to score was going to win the back and forth match. Fortunately for the Eagles they scored the last two tries to sneak out with a 27-19 win. The USA was now in the fifth place final and their opponent would be New Zealand. New Zealand are tough to beat when you have all your stars but not having some makes a difference. On top of losing Leuta and having Perry Baker and Maka Unufe home for this leg, Carlin Isles stumbled and took a knee to the head while getting tackled in fist 30 seconds. The contact knocked out Isles which ended his day and makes him a question mark for this weekend in France. The tackle that knocked out Isles led to a turnover a try for New Zealand. That was the first try as the All Black 7s went on to dominate the USA and win by a final score of 26-5 to claim fifth.
Unstoppable Flying Fijians:
We have established that when it comes to sevens, Fiji tend to be the favorites of neutrals all over the globe and the second team of most fans. Well it is time to establish another truth and recognize the job, Gareth Baber has done since taking over for Ben Ryan. After finishing second last year, the Fijians look poised to win it all again this year. As usual they went undefeated over both days and never allowed anyone to score more than 19 points. All aspiring 7s players and coaches should watch Fiji play with pen and paper in hand to take notes at this point.
Though they once again loss in the Cup Final, South Africa looked very impressive in their 5 wins, showing the consistency they have shown all the way through the series. They will need a miracle to overtake Fiji for the series lead as they are 7 points back. If they had won, they would have been 1 point back with all to play for. In third place, was Ireland, achieving what no invitational side ever has. After going 1-2 on day one and only making the cup playoffs thanks to points difference, they seized their moment by upsetting the USA then after losing to Fiji, winning at the death against their ancient foe, the English to claim the bronze. New Zealand claimed fifth place as mentioned and finally, shaking off the disappointment of not making the Cup playoffs Kenya defeated all-comers on day two to win the Challenge Trophy.
Second: South Africa
Fifth: New Zealand
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