Second-half comeback not enough for Eagles win
HONG KONG, China – The Men’s Eagles Sevens waited until late in their second match of the Cathay Pacific HSBC Hong Kong Sevens against France to put up a fight. However, the comeback proved to be too late as France’s 21-point lead was too much to overcome.
The Eagles started with the same lineup as the defeat to Kenya on day one, save for Nick Edwards’ replacement of Luke Hume.
Within seconds of the initial kickoff, Zack Test ‘s obvious pass attempt to Carlin Isles was picked off by France’s Renauld Delmas just meters away from the try zone for an easy score. Paul Albaladejo’s conversion made it 7-0.
Similar to the Kenya match, the Eagles struggled early to move the ball and get down the field. Isles received the ball on the wing during the Eagles’ next possession but was triple-teamed. An offload to Hawkins resulted in a ruck without Eagles support, causing another turnover.
Nick Edwards proved his value in the starting lineup with good defensive positioning in the third minute. Alone, he singlehandedly kept two France players from beating him by not committing to either, causing confusion between the two.
Jean Baptiste Gobelet increased the French lead in the fifth minute after Albaladejo dummied the Eagles defense and broke through. He offloaded to Gobelet for a try between the sticks and Albaladejo converted for the 14-0 lead.
The ensuing kickoff was destined to go into touch, but a France player kept it in to retain possession. It fell to Steeve Barry, who danced into the try zone alone, but Shalom Suniula put pressure on the Frenchman and caused Barry to slip and lose the ball before he could touch it down in the try zone.
Despite the apparent good fortune caused by the Eagles’ hard work, Barry redeemed himself with a hardworking move of his own in the last minute of the first half, resulting in an outstretched try. Albaladejo once again converted to make the score 21-0.
The Eagles did not make it to their opponent’s 22 during the entire first half, but came out with energy and determination in the second. Jack Halalilo, Matt Hawkins and Test moved the ball well down the right-hand side to create space. Hawkins stood-up his opposite number and gave the ball to Halalilo, who touched the ball down for the Eagles’ first try of the match. Suniula’s conversion was wide from the sideline.
France’s circuit-leading tackle completion percentage (85%) was on show Saturday morning, causing the Eagles difficulty when it came to moving down the field. However, Test and newly-subbed Mike Palefau linked together a minute later for a long run and Palefau’s 33rd career try between the uprights. Folau Niua, who also came on in the second half, made the conversion to draw the Eagles within nine at 21-12.
With a minute remaining, Andrew Durutalo, another second-half substitution, passed to Niua near the France 22 for the second Eagles try between the posts and another Niua conversion for a 21-19 score.
Needing to keep the ball in bounds, fans at the Hong Kong Stadium gasped as the Eagles’ kickoff dropped before reaching the 22. The Eagles showed patience by letting the ball bounce and took advantage of France’s complacency to regain possession and not let the ball go into touch.
The Eagles, quickly, got set up across the field in an attempt to score the final try, but a forward pass to Hume ended the match 21-19.
The All Blacks are up next for the Eagles in the last match of group play in Pool B. New Zealand defeated France in its first Hong Kong Sevens match on Friday and has not yet faced Kenya.
Get live updates during the Eagles’ matches by following the Official USA Rugby Twitter account (@USARugby).
Men’s Eagles Sevens | vs. France
Tries: Halalilo, Palefau
Conversions: Niua (2)