MOSCOW, Russia - The Men’s Eagles Sevens squad along with 23 other teams begin their 2013 Rugby World Cup Sevens campaign on Friday, June 28 at the iconic Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, Russia.
The Grand Sports Arena of the Luzhniki Olympic Complex - home of the 1980 Olympic Games - is the largest sports stadium in Russia with a capacity of 89,318. The United States boycotted the 1980 Olympics, and history will be made this weekend as two American teams run out on Russian soil.
USA Eagles Sevens Captain Matt Hawkins played at the 2009 Rugby World Cup in Dubai, and the veteran referred to as ‘The Polar Bear’ has seen several major changes over the last four-year cycle.
“The Olympics has definitely changed the profile of the game,” said Hawkins. “We are now a full-time program, so guys are training Monday through Friday, all day. We’ve also had a change in coach. I think at the same time the Series as a whole has changed, especially with global sponsors like HSBC coming on-board. Looking at the U.S. in particular, we’ve got a lot more of a focus on becoming a world force, and this (World Cup) is one of those stages that we have the opportunity to really exploit. For me, it’s fantastic to see how the program has grown over the last few years.”
During the Sevens World Series in 2009 the Eagles reached the semifinal at the USA Sevens in San Diego, and were on a high leading into the World Cup. Though the squad was expected to do well, they were unable to make it past France in pool play and finished in a frustrating 13th place. After finishing top six in three of this year’s Series stops, the Eagles are once again have momentum.
“This time round, it’s quite similar,” commented Hawkins. “We’ve just come off three great tournaments and a superb end to the Series. We’re primed to do some good things this weekend, and it’s just up to us to fulfill that.”
“Success would ultimately be going through to the next round, so for us that would be the Cup Quarterfinals. There are a lot of mathematical things that could happen to allow us to do that, but at the end of the day it’s all going to come down to that first game against Georgia.”
“Our team is the type of team that would gain a huge amount of confidence from playing a clinical game against Georgia. If we are able to do that, then going into Saturday against Canada and New Zealand we have pretty much a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do something really, really special. I’ve said it before--we’re done playing in Bowls and Shields. At the same time however, we have to put the performances forth that allow us not to have to do that.”
The Eagles squad includes three changes from the London Sevens, with Luke Hume and Blaine Scully currently committed to the Eagles fifteens squad who recently competed in the Pacific Nations Cup. Following injuries which kept them out of several Series stops, Jack Halalilo returns to the fold, as does the 21-year-old Maka Unufe - who last played during the Wellington Sevens in New Zealand this past February. The ageless Mike Palefau also makes a welcome comeback, after fulfilling family and work commitments.
Head Coach Alex Magebly is eagerly awaiting the sound of the Luzhniki Stadium hooter on Friday at 4.06 PM local time.
“We’re excited. As a sevens coach we don’t really have that much control over the weekend. Once we begin to play we can then make adjustments in-between matches.”
Speaking with Magleby and the players, its evident they are anxious to take the field.
“It feels like we have been here forever, even though we only got here Sunday night,” says Magleby. “Today we had our jersey presentation and the guys are ready to take the field.”
Consistency in sevens on the World Series is extremely difficult, but the Eagles managed three top six finishes during the final three tournaments of the 2012/13 Series. They defeated South Africa for the first time in history, proving yet again how narrow the gap between the nations can be.
“In the sevens game in general there is no promise of continuation,” noted Magleby. “It’s quite unpredictable and you try control the things you can, but just because we had a couple good tournaments doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll have one here. It doesn’t work like that.”
It’s indeed been a year of surprises and upsets, as the first five Series’ stops in the 2012/13 season yielded five different Plate Champions. Magleby knows that the only thing you can do is to continue to adapt your squad to the next challenge.
“Obviously the things we are going to do now are much different than the things we were doing before Hong Kong, or before Glasgow.
“The system changes and we have to adjust to it. So we analyze as much as we can and put as much information into trying to make the correct changes. I think we made the correct decisions so far throughout the season and I think we’ve done that again heading into the weekend. The boys are ready and it’s time to perform.”
The Eagles will face Georgia on Friday, followed by two more pool matches on Saturday, against Canada and New Zealand.
Due to the 24-team format, only the winner of each pool will advance to the Cup Quarterfinals. The two best second-place teams, based on point differentials, will also advance to the Cup Quarterfinals.
Men's Eagles Sevens | Rugby World Cup Sevens 2013
1. Carlin Isles
2. Nick Edwards
3. Andrew Durutalo
4. Shalom Suniula
5. Zach Test
6. Matt Hawkins
7. Folau Niua
8. Jack Halalilo
9. Maka Unufe
10. Mike Palefau
11. Colin Hawley
12. Brett Thompson
Men’s Eagles Sevens | Staff
Alex Magleby (Head Coach)
Andy Katoa (Manager)
Brian Green (Athletic trainer)
Paul Goulding (Video Analyst)
Men’s Eagles Sevens | Schedule
USA vs. Georgia 8.06 AM E.T Friday June 28
USA vs. Canada 2.06 AM E.T Saturday June 29
USA vs. New Zealand 8.20 AM E.T Saturday June 29