HACKENSACK, NJ – They say it’s hard to beat a team twice. The other side starts to get familiar with your tendencies, your weaknesses. So to beat a team three times? In two consecutive weekends of play? That is certainly an impressive feat and certainly a tall order at the international level. So when the Team USA’s Men’s 7s squad lined up to play Spain for the FOURTH time in four days of play at the tournament in Madrid, the odds were somewhat stacked against them.
The problem, though, is that the Eagles had a chance to defy the odds, sweep Spain on their home turf and take home third-place hardware in consecutive weekends. Early scores by Jake Lachina, who had a standout round filling in for the injured Perry Baker on the wing, and Cody Melphy put the USA ahead right away. But a defensive lapse around the ruck (something they struggled with throughout the tournament) and an avoidable yellow card for Melphy at the end of the half let Spain right back into the game.
After allowing a third score and falling behind almost immediately to start the second half, the team responded with a try of their own. Captain Martin Iosefo injected some life into the offense off the bench and Joe Schroeder regained the lead for the USA with a nice run. But the team allowed their lead to slowly dissipate.
An errant pass led to a kick-and-chase score for Spain and, in the final seconds, another avoidable yellow card (this time on Iosefo for an intentional knock-on) gave Spain enough of an advantage to score the winning try and send the Eagles home with a whole lotta nothing. As the play-by-play announcer for the tournament was fond of saying: ¡Qué horror!
It wasn’t all horror for the men’s side, though. A relatively young team (Baker and Iosefo had the most caps, entering with 47 and 46 respectively) showed some really nice flashes. Lachina was a revelation and Melphy performed very well at fly-half. Kevon Williams had a great game in their rematch against Kenya (a loss but closer this time) and Malon Al-Jiboori was doing a lot of hard work in the middle of the field on offense and defense.
Coach Mike Friday said what took me the last five paragraphs to say in a couple of sentences: “Another topsy-turvey day of learning for the group … we have to acknowledge the great deal of work needed in physical preparation and robustness. Nonetheless, it was pleasing to see the evolution of behaviors, commitment to repeated efforts in movement off the ball and the realization that we have much more to give and do.”
It is indeed physicality and robustness, as Coach Friday put it, along with the elimination of mental errors that will allow this team to hang with the likes of Kenya and Argentina. They’ve shown that they can be a threat when they want but they have to hope that there’s another level to their game. Luckily, there’s a lot of 7s left to play before the Olympics, which gives us all a little time to work on our robustness.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the women’s side as well before closing. They withdrew from play due to #COVID concerns after a rash of positive tests were reported on other teams. The organizers of the tournament would later report that all of those tests were false positives, but the team felt that this was the right move to keep their players safe. While they only ended up playing two games in the second round of the tournament, they scored enough points to win five games, beating Spain 32-5 and Poland 62-0.
Cheta Emba continued her streak of dominant play into the second round, providing a scoring threat on the wing and a powerful defensive presence all over. Kristen Thomas picked up her involvement this weekend, scoring a number of breakaway tries with some blistering pace. Stephanie Rivetti was so fast that she literally ran out of her shoes not once, but twice in the same game. And Ilona Maher showed that she’s a dual threat, supplementing her defensive performance in Round 1 with a number of powerful tries in Round 2.
World Rugby announced the schedule for the 2021 HSBC Sevens Series, with the women expected to play again in Paris in May and the men in Canada at some point in September.
Be sure to check out our 4 new on-camera segments this week. We’re back with MLR, More Madrid & Global Rugby Stuff.