DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Men’s Eagles Sevens Head Coach Matt Hawkins opted for changes in the Emirates Dubai Rugby Sevens Shield Semifinal, but France flipped a 14-0 halftime deficit into a 19-14 win Saturday.
The Eagles put on their best first-half performance of the tournament, keeping the French inside the 22 for the first six minutes. Some heavy lifting from Miles Craigwell, Andrew Durutalo and Zach Test in the second minute to get within a few meters from the try zone set up Nu’u Punimata to dive over for the match’s opening try. Niua kicked the conversion for the 7-0 Eagles lead.
Test almost connected with Niua’s grubber kick in the fifth minute, but an unfortunate bounce betrayed the Eagles’ all-time leading try-scorer. The Eagles got the ball back and put together some nice passing between phases inside the France 22 and Ryne “Pono” Haitsuka sped past the defense for the second try of the match, the first of his career. Niua extended the lead to 14-0.
The Eagles took a penalty at midfield with time expired and France had one last chance to cut the lead before the end of the half. Moving the ball out wide, France was in the clear, but the final pass 10 meters out was knocked on to bring out the referee’s whistle.
Hawkins’ team looked fired up in the halftime team talk, but the second half was not going to be kind to the Eagles.
France was given a lineout in the eighth minute and Paul Albaladejo made the Eagles pay for a lapse in defense with a try. A missed conversion meant the Eagles were still up by two possessions, however, at 14-5.
Niua tried to get down the wing in the 11th minute but could not turn on the jets quick enough. Carlin Isles’ cheeky chip over the defense went into touch.
With two minutes remaining, Renaud Delmas fended Isles twice inside the 22 and waited for an onrushing Vincent Inigo to get rid of the ball. Inigo ran into the try zone by himself to dot down and draw France within two at 14-12.
The ensuing restart was caught cleanly by Jean Baptiste Gobelet and the Eagles took another penalty, allowing France to get set up with good field position. Albaladejo grabbed the ball from the ruck and dummied his way past two Eagles and into the try zone for the match-winning score. He kicked his own conversion to bring the final score to 19-14, though it would not have mattered.
The Eagles finish the Emirates Dubai Rugby Sevens with five losses in five matches. A tough pool with Canada, England and Fiji wore them down before Australia breezed past in the Bowl Quarterfinal.
Next up is the Nelson Mandela Bay Sevens Dec. 7-8. Pools and teams will be announced next week.
Men's Eagles Sevens | v France
1. Carlin Isles
2. Nick Edwards
3. Andrew Durutalo
4. Nu'u Punimata
5. Zack Test
6. Brett Thompson
7. Folau Niua
8. Pat Blair
9. Ryne Haitsuka
10. Zach Mizell
11. Stephen Tomasin
12. Miles Craigwell