WELLINGTON, New Zealand -- Two losses and a tie is how the USA Men's Sevens team ended their first day at the Hertz Sevens in Wellington. In an unforgiving pool with New Zealand, England, and Spain, the Eagles were competitive, but will be competing in the Bowl Quarterfinals on day two, not in the elite Cup competition.
The pattern for the USA on day one was to score early (they scored first in all their games), then have an unfortunate two or three minutes, and then chase the game allowing the other team to manipulate the clock and employ other proven finishing strategies to seal a win.
Spain was on the ropes for a good part of the first game, but miscues on defense allowed the Spanish to take the lead in the second half and hang on for the win.
England was in a state of shock for the first half, finding themselves losing to the Americans and not being able to get their hands on the ball. The USA kept the ball tight and forced the English to make tackle after tackle, wearing down on the English bodies. Luke Hume scored a try punching in through traffic to give the Eagles the lead. Mat Turner scored England’s second try with only seconds left in the match, but it was enough time for the referee to allow one final restart. Maka Unufe took it to the house and Folau Niua converted to tie the game.
To end day one, the USA had the home team, New Zealand, to beat to advance to the Cup Quarterfinals. For a good part of the game, it looked like that was going to happen. Nick Edwards scored a great individual try to go up 5-0 on the hosts. Tries on either side of halftime gave New Zealand the lead they would hold on to despite a late score from Zack Test.
The results aren’t desirable, but the team has proven to be very competitive and physical. Players are making more big plays and you get the sense that they are on the cusp of putting together something special on day two in Wellington.
In the Bowl Quarterfinals, Fiji will stand in the way of the USA. Kickoff is 7:44 p.m. ET. Follow live on Facebook and Twitter.
USA vs. NZ
The home crowd was definitely in their team's corner, but they were never really comfortable against the USA. The Eagles scored on a burst by Nick Edwards and kept the All Blacks at bay for most of the first half. New Zealand's playmaker, Tomasi Cama, gave the Kiwis a 7-5 lead just before half.
Protecting the ball in rucks was a problem for the Eagles and NZ took advantage. Two second half tries gave them cushion, but the USA kept attacking and eventually drew within seven points with only seconds on the clock. It wasn't enough time for the USA to come back.
Tries: Edwards, Test
New Zealand 17
Tries: Cama(2), Lam
USA vs. England
A crucial cover play by Luke Hume and a try-saving tackle by Blaine Scully were gutsy highlights of the Eagles' second match of the Hertz Sevens in Wellington, but it was Maka Unufe's dazzling run after time expired in the second half that cashed in on his teammates' efforts.
The gameplan employed saw forwards crashing the ball along the fringes of the breakdown and forcing England to continue making tackle after tackle. In a way, the tactic of wearing defenders down worked. Banged up English players were attended to by trainers on several ocassions, forcing the referee to add time after England scored at the end of regulation. One play was all that was left and Unufe ran the restart back 70 meters to get within two of England. Niua converted and the game ended in a draw.
Tries: Hume, Unufe
Tries: Turner, Lewis-Pratt
USA vs. Spain
Spain and the USA put on an exciting show, but it ended badly for the Eagles who dropped their Wellington Sevens opener to an emergent Spanish side 5-10.
The USA had early momentum after an early score. Spanish miscues led to an opportunity for the Eagles to assert pressure and the did so easily. Hard work at the breakdown was followed by a quick pass wide and Jack Halalilo scored in his third HSBC Sevens World Series tournament for the Eagles.
Some rust was evident and defense supspect for the USA who had several opportunities to score and couldn't convert.
Tries: Poggi (2)
USA vs. Spain - 9:34 p.m. ET (L, 5-10)
USA vs. England - 12:30 a.m. ET (T, 12-12)
USA vs. New Zealand - 3:56 a.m. ET (L, 10-17)