HONG KONG, China – The Men’s Eagles Sevens fell just short of a winning start in the IRB HSBC Sevens World Series’ Cathay Pacific HSBC Hong Kong Sevens early Friday, losing to Kenya 17-14 in Pool B play.
The Eagles fell behind early after Kenya’s Dennis Ombachi picked up the ball kicked behind the Eagles’ Carlin Isles and beat the American sprinter into the try zone. Biko Adema kicked the conversion for the 7-0 lead.
Long-time Eagles Sevens player Shalom Suniula started the game for the Eagles and forced a knock-on for an early turnover. In the fourth minute however, he had Isles in mind when he kicked the ball hard downfield from near the Kenyan try line. With Isles and a defender in a footrace, Isles kicked it downfield several more meters before falling behind. Kenya had the ball in hand but Isles forced a fumble and caught the ball perfectly on the bounce to take it in for the try between the posts. To bring it full circle, Suniula kicked the conversion from in front.
First-half kickoffs were tough for the Eagles. Kenya recovered the first three kickoffs and used them to take the lead. After Isles’ try, Kenya took almost no time at all to regain the lead by switching play and catching the Eagles out of position. It was Ombachi again who scored, but the Eagles caught a break after Adema missed the conversion.
Zach Test won the ensuing kick-off, but the Eagles could not capitalize before the end of the half. Colin Hawley almost fumbled possession after a tackle from Kenya and finally lost the ball in the ruck. Isles made a tackle to help force the end of the half before Kenya could add another try.
The Eagles had two giveaways to Kenya’s one in the first half, mainly resulting from the lack of movement and going into touch so often.
Suniula showed his experience early in the second half by saving a certain try in the opening minute. The Eagles should have recovered the kickoff, but were a bit out of position and allowed the Kenyan ball-carrier to break through to Suniula.
Luke Hume followed up Suniula’s try-saving tackle with one of his own in the ninth minute, this time in the try zone. Kenya was awarded a scrum a few meters out, and forced the ball wide to Isles’ side of the field. Isles missed his tackle and Ombachi ran around Hume for the try and 17-7 lead, unfair to the Eagles’ defense.
Hawley turned the ball over again during the Eagles’ next possession, but Edwards recovered in a broken play. Showing great ball movement in the midfield, Hawkins, Hume and Test set up the overload on the sideline to put Hawkins in for the try. Folau Niua nailed the kick to bring the score to 17-14.
The Eagles kept Kenya out of the try zone for the remainder of the match, but failed to move the ball down the field when possession was gained. Niua played good defense after a Kenya kick to retain possession, but not enough ball movement stuttered the offense and forced a couple of scrums.
With the clock wound down, Kenya could have easily ended the game with a kick to touch, but the ball stayed in-bounds deep in the Eagles end. Though the Eagles had two more chances to win possession, one penalty and a lack of movement allowed Kenya to hold onto their slim lead for a 1-0 record to start Hong Kong Sevens.
The ability to score two tries and convert each will be motivating for the Eagles, though they will have to do better in open play against New Zealand and France if they want to reach the Cup round.
The Eagles’ will attempt to get back on track against France at 10:50 P.M. ET Friday. Follow the USA Rugby Twitter account and IRB Sevens Twitter account for updates from the largest round of the Sevens World Series.