PORT ELIZABETH, South Africa -- The USA Men's Sevens team knows they have every chance to make the cup quarterfinals and beyond in South Africa. While the squad and its identity are a work in progress, the stage has been set for a good run by the Eagles in Port Elizabeth.
Watching the Eagles nearly beat South Africa for the first time last weekend in Dubai, you get the sense that they are on the verge of a breakthrough. The pieces are there: finishers, solid forwards,a good set piece, but a complete 14 minute game is still elusive. That could all change and change in a hurry this weekend.
THE OPPOSITION IN PORT ELIZABETH
The Men's Eagle Sevens team might have the most manageable pool in recent memory on paper, but after last weekend in Dubai, the USA's three Pool D opponents (Portugal, Canada, and Zimbabwe) are going to be tough but winnable games.
Portugal is an always-improving with some very quick and entrepreneurial players. They proved last week they could run with the big boys, beating England and South Africa and losing narrowly to eventual Dubai champs, Samoa.
Playing Canada is always a tough proposition for the Eagles, and an emotional one as well. Canada are a young team that play tough and confidently, but the Can-Am rivalry can go either way, regardless of record or form. The Eagles suffered a heavy 7-26 loss to the Canadians last week, which will surely be fresh on their minds.
Zimbabwe is an unknown. Port Elizabeth will be their first tournament this season and you can always count on a few speedsters being in the mix. Given the limited intel on Zim, this will be a good chance for the Eagles to focus playing their game and testing their ability to adapt to the flow of the game.
KEYS FOR THE USA
Hone the Killer Instinct
This week in South Africa the team has been doing some team bonding - cage diving with sharks and going face-to-face with lions - maybe that will jolt them to hone some killer instincts of their own on the field. The return of Luke Hume will help with that. A team feeds off intensity and Hume has it in spades.
There is no lack of effort in my estimation, but a lack of execution in the final moments has haunted them. The team needs to find a way to get it to the finishers – Zack Test, Maka Unufe, Luke Hume, and Carlin Isles – in space when the game is on the line.
Enjoy the game
The chemistry, trust, and team ethos USA head coach Alex Magleby has developed is starting to show. A tour is a catalyst for team chemistry and so the team might very well be more than a few steps ahead of where they were in Dubai just seven days ago. If players continue to trust each other and enjoy their rugby, it can translate into wins and plenty of momentum going into Wellington and Las Vegas in February.
Patience is a good thing, mostly
Patience in a game like sevens is a hard thing to develop and the team has done a good job of that. But certain times in games call for urgency and the entire team needs to be on the same page when those times come. It's not an easy thing to coach or learn, but it needs to be better.
USA vs. Portugal - 5:28 a.m. EST
USA vs. Canada - 8:56 a.m. EST
USA vs. Zimbabwe - 10:58 a.m. EST
Follow the action live on Twitter (@usaeaglesrugby) and get updates on the Eye on the Eagles page.