HONG KONG, China – The Men’s Eagles Sevens exited the Cathay Pacific HSBC Hong Kong Sevens with a 24-19 loss to South Africa in the Plate Semifinal Sunday, a comeback effort symbolic of Matt Hawkins’ team’s never-say-die attitude.
South Africa raced out to a big lead early and wasted no time in doing so thanks to a try from Jamba Ulengo. Andrew Durutalo lifted Zack Test to get the restart, but the Springboks stole possession and freed Ulengo to open the scoring.
The Eagles had time with the ball to put attacks together but found it tough to get past a stingy Springbok defense. Mike Palefau bruised through a few tackles in the fourth minute to help get the Eagles going and Madison Hughes kept play alive with a good pass, but Nick Edwards lost the ball forward to halt the momentum.
Werner Kok seemed destined for the try zone a minute later, but Test had other ideas with a big hit to stop the Springbok in open space. South Africa kept the ball and passed it quickly to the wing, however, where Stephan Dippenaar stuck an arm out to keep Durutalo away for his team’s second try and a 12-0 lead.
There was just enough time left in the first half for South Africa to extend the lead. The Eagles were hemmed deep in their own half and committed a penalty, giving the Springboks a chance to catch the Eagles off guard. They did, and Dippenaar scored his second after a quick tap.
South Africa went into the half with a 19-0 lead. The Eagles, who have given the opposition fits in the second half during the past two tournaments, did not change their game plan for the final seven minutes.
Hawkins inserted Garrett Bender and Pono Haitsuka before the kickoff and the energy the two youngsters brought to the team could be felt throughout Hong Kong Stadium. Unfortunately for the Eagles, Kwagga Smith was not impressed, and managed to drag Haituska a few extra meters towards the Eagles’ try zone. The Springbok was supported by a few teammates after the run, including Ulengo, who added his second try of the match to extend South Africa’s lead to 24-0 in the eighth minute.
With plenty of time left, the Eagles did not quit. Danny Barrett entered the match and won the restart for the Eagles, Hughes made a run down the wing and found Thompson while being tackled, and Ryan Matyas followed the play. Matyas received the ball near midfield and ran nearly 60 meters to get the Eagles on the scoreboard. Hughes’ conversion was good for a 24-7 scoreline.
On the next possession, Bender fended his opposite number and fed Thompson in space, who used the remaining amounts of his energy after three tough days in Hong Kong to score the Eagles’ second try.
Down 24-12 with two minutes left in the match, the Eagles again did not stop. Marcus Satavu got the ball in space with Springboks closing in and he lost his footing, slipping on the moist pitch. The newest addition to the Olympic Training Center got right back up, though, keeping the Eagles’ attack alive. A few seconds later, Edwards ran to the corner for another Eagles try to close the gap to 24-19.
By the time Haitsuka kicked the restart, the clock showed 20 seconds remaining. South Africa knocked on after winning the restart, giving the Eagles the final opportunity to take the match. Bender was on his way to the try zone but the referee called a penalty on the St. Cloud State man, which allowed South Africa to end the match.
The Eagles finish Hong Kong Sevens with a 1-4 record but five complete performances heading into the final two rounds of the 2013-14 IRB HSBC Sevens World Series. Hawkins’ team gains 10 points by reaching the Plate Semifinal, which will keep the Eagles ahead of Portugal and Spain in the standings.
Glasgow Sevens, the Series’ eighth stop, kicks off May 3.
Men's Eagles Sevens | v South Africa
1. Mike Palefau
2. Nick Edwards
>3. Danny Barrett
4. Garrett Bender
5. Zack Test
6. Brett Thompson
7. Marcus Satavu
8. Andrew Durutalo
9. Pono Haitsuka
10. Mike Te'o
11. Madison Hughes
12. Ryan Matyas
Men's Eagles Sevens | 19
Tries: Matyas, Thompson, Edwards
Conversions: Hughes (2)