PORT ELIZABETH, South Africa – The USA Men's National team added ten HSBC Sevens World Series points to their tally at the Nelson Mandela Bay 7s this weekend, more than doubling their season total going into the tournament.
After making the Cup Quarterfinals following a strong first day, the Eagles fell to the home team, South Africa, to start day two and were then placed in the Plate Semifinal where they lost a thriller to Wales.
Even in the anguish of two defeats, the team continued to battle and become much more dangerous. Strike runners like Nick Edwards and Carlin Isles are really influencing games. The physicality of the team is also on the rise, making the Eagles a very tough team to play.
That said, the defensive response to penalties and offensive execution are areas that need improvement. The physical side is getting there, but the decision making (which is much harder to find rapid improvement in) still needs work. But the coach and team know that.
"We need to learn how to execute under pressure," USA Head Coach, Alexander Magleby said. "That is something we will continue to work on and address in training situations."
While one aspect of the mental game could use some work, another aspect was excellent from the Eagles. The Eagles showed toughness and a lot of grit. A number of players were carrying significant injuries but gutted it out for their teammates.
The effort and the physicality shown by the Eagles in South Africa are characteristics of a team that is ready to win the battle of wills. Win enough of those and they'll find themselves winning many more games.
After a short break, the team will be back at it preparing for Wellington (February 1-2, 2013) and their home tournament in Las Vegas (February 8-10, 2013).
USA vs. South Africa (Cup Quarterfinal)
Playing the home team is always tough, but the Eagles were neck and neck with a very good South Africa team for the first half. An early crosskick by South Africa shocked the USA defense and got the home team on the board early. But patience by the USA led to a great individual try by Nick Edwards and the successful conversion put the Eagles in the lead. A South African score before halftime put the home side up by five points at intermission.
The second half started well for the Eagles as Luke Hume made a massive break and got deep into South African territory. A knock on ended that opportunity though, about 10 meters away from the try line. It wasn't until the last minute that South Africa would score the try that really put the game away. The USA fought the entire game and managed to make the team and the fans from South Africa extremely nervous.
USA vs. Wales (Plate Semifinal)
Wales struck first in the Plate Semifinal, capitalizing on a USA penalty for not releasing the ball. The Americans were slow to get in position and Wales quick tapped and caught them out. On the ensuing restart, Zack Test was taken out in the air and Wales earned themselves a yellow card for the cheap shot. Immediately the Eagles would take advantage. Folau Niua, knowing he had a man advantage, drew out the defense and cut back in for a score. The Eagles continued to build pressure on the depleted Welsh defense, but an ill-advised kick by the USA negated all the good work being done to that point. Wales took a dropout 22 the distance and got the lead before halftime.
Wales scored again to start the second half and the Eagles were in quite a hole. A bit of individual brilliance by Nick Edwards got the USA back in striking distance. Edwards fended off two defenders and burnt his way down the touchline for a try. Not long after, Luke Hume was able to find Carlin Isles in some space and Isles showed real class not only beating the entire defense, but also having the presence of mind to fight his way to score under the sticks. With the scores tied, the USA had possession in the Welsh half, but a floating spin pass hung up in the air and James Davies snatched it and went the distance for Wales. That would end the game and the tournament, painfully, for the Eagles.
South Africa 17
Tries: Isbell, Hendricks, Kolbe
Tries: Niua, Edwards, Isles
Conversions: Niua (2)
Tries: Harries, Thomas, Webber, Davies
Conversions: Thomas (3)