Samoa Squeak By Eagles, USA Bound for Bowl Quarters
There is no such thing as an easy pool in the HSBC Sevens World Series, but there is definitely a particularly difficult one, and that is what the USA found out today when they squared-off with Pool B opponents Samoa and Fiji. Flashes of brilliance and grit have landed the Eagles in the Emirates Airline South Africa 7s Bowl quarterfinals tomorrow against France.
The Eagles didn’t take a backwards step in the opening match against defending world champions Samoa. Instead, the Eagles scored after 25 seconds through East Palo Alto center, Mile Pulu. Two minutes later Eagle skipper, Matt Hawkins, led by example and dotted down another score, leaving Samoa scratching their collective head and finding themselves down ten points early.
The Samoans answered back before halftime and carried the momentum through the first five minutes of the second half, scoring four unanswered tries. It was USA newbies Nu’u Punimata and Miles Craigwell who brought the USA within three points of the biggest upset of the South Africa 7s. The two crossover athletes heeded USA Head Coach Al Caravelli’s favorite mantra; “Empty the Tank” and throttled their way to two USA tries late in the match. In the end, missed conversions cost the USA the game, with a final score of 24-22.
Scrumhalf Shalom Suniula’s phenomenal handling skill and Craigwell’s physicality garnered the attention of the commentators with a nice finish by Punimata. The Eagles earned a “Play of the Day” highlight produced by the IRB (http://tinyurl.com/2cz3gox).
After emptying the tank against one island giant, the Eagles were in Fiji’s sights for the USA’s second pool matchup of day one. Pulu struck for the USA early again, scoring the only American points of the match after only 17 seconds of play. Knock ons and missed tackles sealed the fate of the USA, and the match ended with a lopsided 43-5 score line in favor of Fiji.
“Against Fiji, we had too many handling errors…we had six missed tackles and nine knock ons,” said Caravelli, something his side would have to remedy to emerge from Pool play.
Namibia was up next and the Eagles had a shaky start. Perhaps after playing two elite sevens teams and knowing that Namibia was drubbed by Fiji and Samoa earlier in the day, the Eagles started against Namibia somewhat lackadaisically.
Namibia’s Melrick Africa fired a warning-shot try early, but that would do it for Namibia’s tally in the game. Former All-American, Colin Hawley, calmed the American nerves with a nicely worked team try scored after four minutes of flailing. Coaching kicked in from that point on and the Eagles reclaimed composure to handily work over the Namibians. Eagle veteran Mark Bokhoven scored before halftime and the second half was all USA and mostly Suniula.
Ronald Suniula scored a pair, which were converted by his brother Shalom. Mile Pulu continued his remarkable try-scoring streak with a nice slice through the drifting Namibian defense about a minute before the final whistle.
“I honestly don’t know what we were doing in the first half,” said Caravelli. The coach said he was pleased with two games the Eagles played today (Samoa and Namibia).
EAGLES SET FOR BOWL QUARTERS
France, who are hungry for a win in the South Africa 7s, stand in the Eagles’ way tomorrow in the Bowl quarterfinals (the Bowl being essentially a battle for second place in the tournament). The French were blanked by Australia and suffered losses to Wales and Scotland on day one. The winner of the France and USA match will take one the winner of Zimbabwe and Russia to advance to the semis and beyond. Kenya look to be the toughest competitor the Eagles may face if they go through the Bowl quarters and semis.
While a loss is never something to be happy about, the fact that the Eagles played Samoa tough and had real flashes of brilliance against excellent competition, shows promise for the young Eagles team. The USA hung with rugby powerhouse New Zealand in what started out as a close match last weekend in Dubai. With every tournament, the young squad is getting better and more experienced, an asset for the USA in both the near and short terms.
PULU POWERS ON
Rugby sevens is definitely a team sport, but when a player is on a streak like Mile Pulu is on, it’s definitely worth noting. Pulu has scored seven tries so far in the Sevens World Series, with at least one try in every game the USA has played. It’s probably safe to say Caravelli is glad Mile came along with the USA this season.
To watch the final rounds live tomorrow, visit: http://www.universalsports.com/rugby/index.html
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2010-2011 HSBC Sevens World Series:
Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby 7s | Dubai, UAE | December 3-4, 2010
Emirates Airline South Africa 7s | George, South Africa | December 10-11, 2010
NZI Sevens | Wellington, New Zealand | February 4-5, 2011
USA Sevens | Las Vegas, USA | February 12-13, 2011
Cathay Pacific Credit Suisse Hong Kong Sevens | Hong King, China | March 25-27, 2011
Adelaide Sevens | Adelaide, Australia | April 2-3, 2011
Emirates Airline London Sevens | London, England | May 21-22, 2011
Emirates Airline Edinburgh Sevens Festival | Edinburgh, Scotland | May 28-29, 2011