February 2, 2012
Eagles Drop Three in Wellington
WELLINGTON -- The USA Men’s Eagle Sevens team went 0-3 on the first day of the Wellington Sevens, falling to South Africa, England, and the Cook Islands. The team will face the third seed out of Pool C in the bowl quarterfinals on day two. That game will kick off tomorrow (Friday February 3) at 7:22 p.m. ET. Full match reports below.
Finishing strong and lacing together a complete 14 minute performance on day two will greatly help the Eagles’ chances at brining home some hardware. Gutsy performances in all three games by the USA are a good sign, but wins are better.
South Africa and England unleashed their speedsters against the USA, capitalizing on turnovers and feeding the ball to players like Cecil Afrika and Dan Norton in open space. The USA has speed to match players like that, but both Afrika and Norton are seasoned Series vets, while some of the pace men on the Eagles are still cutting their teeth.
The match against Cook Islands saw the USA find their form, and early scores put the Eagles up 17-14 at the half. A frantic finish to the game put the Cook Islands ahead by four points with under a minute to play. The score would remain unchanged, despite a flurry of substitutions by the USA in the last minute.
Trial by fire
Garrett Bender (Minneapolis, Minn.) and Maka Unufe (Provo, Utah), got their first taste of World Series rugby in Wellington. The pair signed full-time training contracts with USA Rugby earlier this year, making the Wellington stop their first.
USA v. South Africa (Thursday Feb. 2 - 7:00 p.m. ET)
Cecil Afrika showed the world that he's fit and back to his electrifying best scoring a brace against the USA in the opening game of the 2012 Hertz Sevens in Wellington, New Zealand. It was Afrika's teammate Steven Hunt that drew first blood however, scoring after three minutes of play. Up 14-0 at halftime, the South Africans had a comfortable cushion.
Series debutant, Maka Unufe, earned his first cap and showed glimpses of his phenomenal speed and step against South Africa. USA Head Coach, Al Caravelli, also put newcomer Garrett Bender on the field in the second half. Two new caps against perennial sevens giants South Africa is a huge vote of confidence from the coach.
South Africa 21
Tries: Hunt, Afrika (2)
Cons: Afrika (2), du Preez
USA v. England (Thursday Feb. 2 - 10:18 p.m. ET)
England showed their class and pace against a hard-working Eagles team in the second of USA’s Pool B fixtures in Wellington. Mat Turner, Dan Norton, and Christian Lewis-Pratt all featured prominently on the score sheet in the 29-0 England win.
USA head coach Al Caravelli put out what may have been his strongest defensive team with the highly reliable utility players Miles Craigwell and Colin Hawley starting in place of Andrew Durutalo and Maka Unufe who ran on against South Africa earlier in the day.
Mat Turner opened England’s account against the Eagles after the USA put in three solid minutes of defense. The result was a 12-0 England lead at the interval.
England’s speedsters Mat Turner and Dan Norton carved up the USA defense as the game wore on, particularly in the second half.
England pressured the Eagles and managed to keep the ball out of the Americans’ hands. When the USA did have ball in the game, they looked reasonably solid and caused panic in the well-disciplined English defense on several occasions.
The English made their living off of loose ball and quick turnovers, an area the USA must look to improve on in the final rounds of the tournament on day two.
Tries: Turner, Lewis-Pratt, Norton(2), Mitchell
Cons: Lewis-Pratt (2)
USA v. Cook Islands (Friday Feb. 3 - 12:54 a.m. ET)
It all seemed to be going so well in the early moments of the Eagles’ third and final game of the day against the Cook Islands in Wellington, but as strong as the USA played early in the game, the Islands played that well late to squeak past the Eagles 26-22. Both teams advance to the bowl quarterfinals on day two.
USA vice-captain and elite aerial attacker, Zack Test, set the tone for his team scoring after only 16 seconds had elapsed. His captain Shalom Suniula added another score within two minutes and the Eagles were cruising, but he Cook Islands had different ideas.
Two Cook Islands tries and one from USA flyer Maka Unufe brought the score to 17-14, Eagles at half time. As hectic as the first half was, it paled when compared to the excitement of the second period.
Peter Tiberio stormed out of the gates for the Eagles and put his team up by more than a try. An answer by Cook Islander Koiatu Koiatu made it a one-point ball game.
It would be Jerome Vogel for the Cook Islands that would prevail as the hero, scoring with under a minute to go and putting his side up 26-22 and there the scores would remain.
The USA will face the #3 team out of Pool C, which consists of Tonga, Wales, Fiji, and Argentina.
Tries: Test, S. Suniula, Unufe, Tiberio
Cook Islands 26
Tries: Koiatu, Makara, Mahia, Vogel
Cons: Koiatu (3)