BOULDER, Colo. – Despite their Plate victory against Scotland at Tokyo Sevens, the Men’s Eagles Sevens’ core status for next season’s IRB World Sevens Series is still uncertain.
Tied with Scotland in 12th place with 46 points, the Eagles must finish ahead of the hosts of Glasgow Sevens this weekend to stay out of the promotion/relegation tournament at Marriott London Sevens from 11-12 May.
Of the 15 core teams on the circuit, only Kenya and Portugal, who sits 12 points behind the Eagles in 14th place, have yet to add silverware to their trophy cabinets this season. Portugal has made the Plate Semifinals three times – in Dubai, South Africa and Hong Kong – but has not gained more than 10 points in any tournament. Kenya has made appearances in three Cup Semifinals and finished second in Wellington to earn a spot in next year’s Series.
The final core team behind the Eagles, Spain, won the Bowl at Gold Coast Sevens to open the Series last October, but has struggled to gain points towards the standings since. Even if Spain were to take home the Cup from Glasgow, the Eagles would still be level on points by participating in the tournament. This scenario, however, would no doubt result in the Eagles playing in the relegation tournament in London.
Should the Eagles finish behind Scotland in Glasgow, or tied on points with the hosts, they would risk their place as a core team in the relegation tournament. They would be joined by Spain and, most likely, Portugal, in a side tournament with Russia, Tonga, Georgia, Zimbabwe and Hong Kong. Only three of those teams can become core teams next season.
The Eagles will face Russia first in Glasgow, a repeat of the Bowl Quarterfinal matchup last May. The Eagles fell to the Bears in that match, but earned revenge a week later in the Shield Semifinal in London. The Rugby World Cup Sevens hosts finished in the Semifinals of the pre-qualifier tournament in Hong Kong and will use Glasgow as a warm-up to their promotion battle in London.
Wales and France also await the Eagles in Glasgow’s Pool D. Wales fell to the Eagles 24-22 in a thrilling pool match in Tokyo, while France has had a good track record against the Eagles and has not lost since last year’s Vegas Sevens.
Though the Eagles have enough on their plate with their own matchups, they will surely be keeping an eye on Scotland’s performances. England, Portugal and New Zealand are in Pool B with the hosts, arguably a tougher group than the Eagles’ in Pool D. New Zealand can potentially wrap-up the Series in Glasgow with a top-four finish, while England’s consistent run this season has alleviated any worries they may not be a core team next year.
Portugal’s matchup with Scotland is perhaps the most intriguing, as Portugal could play spoiler by defeating the Scots and help the Eagles along the way.
Head Coach Alexander Magleby revealed last week his squad for Glasgow, which will include Carlin Isles and Matt Hawkins, who each missed a few matches in Tokyo. Blaine Scully will also return for the Eagles, while newcomer Pila Taufa will travel with the team as an alternate.
“The Men’s Eagles Sevens’ form has improved throughout the Series, capped with the Plate in Tokyo last month,” USA Rugby CEO and President of Rugby Operations Nigel Melville said. “They have been a bit unlucky with injuries, but I know first hand Coach Magleby and his staff have prepared the team well for this final stretch in Glasgow and London. The return of Blaine Scully, Matt Hawkins and Carlin Isles is a boost for the squad and I know they are looking forward to performing at their very best in Scotland and London."
The return of Hawkins should give the Eagles a boost, as his five tries in Hong Kong led the team and put him tied for second in tries scored that tournament. Not only does he add another dimension to the Eagles’ attack, he also combines well with his teammates on defense.
Isles missed the final three matches in Tokyo after an unfortunate collision in the Eagles’ match against New Zealand, but is cleared to play in Glasgow and will have plenty of energy to burn.
The Eagles have improved this season and have shown the resiliency of a battle-tested team, especially after losing Hawkins and Isles in the middle of Tokyo Sevens. The Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., and USA Rugby being named an official Olympic Sport Member by the United States Olympic Committee have gone a long way to develop better rugby players, and it is only a matter of time before the Eagles start earning silverware at each tournament.
Until then, however, Magleby and the Eagles must focus on getting out of the 2012-13 Series with core status intact.