USA vs Argentina
Las Vegas, Nev. -- After a hard first day at the USA Sevens the Men's Eagles 7s were given a quick chance at redemption when they faced a young Argentinian squad in the early stages of day two.
The day seemed to be meant for rugby with a growing crowd testing the acoustics of Sam Boyd Stadium with their repetitive cheers of "USA, USA" and a cool breeze offering the players comfort in a tense and hot Las Vegas sun. The crowd seemed to grow by a few thousand from the previous day as maybe the fans sensed a win was in the Eagles' future. They had shown promising rugby against Canada and Fiji on day one and the crowd undoubtedly came to see if they could finally grab a victory.
The question of the day was if the Eagles could finally finish a game. Known for their starting power this weekend, the Eagles had a great first half against Canada but came up flat in the second. This was the story of the match against Argentina on Saturday afternoon.
The match against the Pumas began fast with Shalom Suniula sending the kick off straight into touch and giving the Argentinian attack momentum into USA territory. Working quickly to get into their groove the Pumas tested the USA’s defense and moved the ball well within their hands to dot down early and go up on the Eagles 7 to 0.
The resulting kick off allowed the Eagles a chance to attack through the flowing runs of Maka Unufe which landed the Eagles just yards from the Argentine line. The ball was stripped though before the Eagles could capitalize on the momentum caused by Unufe’s break.
That was the only attacking chance the Eagles saw in the first four minutes as the ball rarely left Argentinian hands and the Eagles struggled to cause turnover ball. The Eagles’ efforts to rattle the Argentinian attack were in vain though, as the Pumas used the Eagles’ eagerness to pull defenders out of line and open a space in the middle of the pitch. Argentina cut through the gap for an easy five-pointer under the posts. The conversion was completed and the Pumas led the Eagles 14 to 0 with a quarter of the match gone.
From the ensuing restart the game seemed to turn on its head as the Eagles fell into an unprecedented rhythm, moving the ball and striking the Argentinian defense at will. The Eagles controlled possession for the rest of the half and balanced the Pumas play with their own. After a few quick phases from the restart, Mike Palefau found his way past one Argentine defender then into the open spaces of the Sam Boyd grass. He raced 70 meters for an Eagles try which was unconverted. Argentina 14, Eagles 5.
The Eagles retained possession from the next restart showing strength once again at the set piece. After good performances against both Canada and Fiji, Colin Hawley found his way into the mix by getting his hands on the ball and opening up space for his teammate Matt Hawkins on the wing. Hawkins touched down to wild cheers from the fans. Suniula converted the try and the Eagles went into the half two points below Argentina. Half time score: Argentina 14, USA 12.
The crowd at Sam Boyd Stadium cheered the resurgent Eagles as they were holding their own against a fast Pumas squad and were seemingly working their way back from a 14 point deficit. The second half though saw no points scored as the standard of play from both teams continued to excite. The rugby was back and forth with both teams fighting their way to the opposite end with entertaining off loads and well-rounded rugby.
It was smart rugby too as the Eagles deflected multiple Puma attacks by drawing penalties and showing sublime dedication in the break down to win the ball back. Using these penalties to work their way to the Argentine line, the Eagles attacked on the fringes through their young wings Test and Unufe. The ball was stripped from the hands of the Eagles though and the Pumas relieved pressure by sending it deep into USA territory.
The USA then brought on Peter Tiberio and Andrew Duratalo to give some speed to the tired legs of the weathered Eagles. From the next scrum Tiberio made a break down the wing as the crowd stood and watched the clock run into the last seconds. Las Vegas sensed a win but it was not to be as the ensuing ruck was riddled with multiple penalties by the desperate Eagles. The Argentines kicked the ball into touch and the whistle blew cementing the game as an Argentine victory. Pumas 14 to 12 over the Eagles.
Tries: Desio, Palma
Cons: Cruz (2)
Tries: Palefau, Hawkins
USA vs France
After an exciting but ultimately disappointing game against Argentina earlier in Day Two of the USA Sevens, the Men’s Eagles were desperate for a win in their second match of the day. The Men’s eagles came up against France on Saturday evening in front of a growing crowd at Sam Boyd Stadium.
The starting side for the Eagles was relatively unchanged with Matt Hawkins, Mike Palefau, Maka Unufe, Shalom Suniula, Andrew Duratalo, Zack Test, and Folau Niua lining up for the red, white, and blue. The game began with good bursts on the wings from the Eagles, obviously trying to test out the French defense with speedster Unufe.
These early breaks mounted the pressure on the French as they found themselves with a lineout on their own five meter line. This was an early sign of how the game would go for the Eagles: pressuring the French into their own zone and using the territory to execute five point plays.
After a lengthy presence in French territory the Eagles gave up multiple penalties around midfield which resulted in an exchange between Niua and a French player. Both were sin binned and the French retained possession within the USA half. From here the French seemed to use Niua’s absence in the defensive line to overlap the faulty Eagles and move the ball wide to touch down in the corner. The ensuing conversion was missed but the French led the USA 5 to 0 a quarter through the match.
The next restart was short and resulted in a free kick to the Eagles at midfield. This gave them great space to work through their pattern. Only a couple phases followed as the Eagles drew and off loaded perfectly with the ball touching the hands of Hawkins, then Duratalo, and finally Test, unleashing the young Californian to out-pace two French defenders and dot down between the posts. The conversion was easily made and the Eagles took a well-deserved lead over the French as the first half ended. USA 7, France 5.
All weekend, the Eagles have shown major strength at the kick off, displaying aerial skills and determination to gather the ball in a key moment in sevens rugby. The second half kickoff saw Test get his hands on the ball and make a break before mishandling it while looking for support. In the resulting scrum the French threatened the Eagles defense wide and seemed to score a try but the touch judge’s flag was raised as a sigh of relief swept Sam Boyd Stadium.
The final minutes of the match saw the USA on their own try line defending well against a French attack determined on leveling the scores. But it was to be in vain as the Eagles relieved pressure and sprinted beyond the French defense as Palefau made one of his many line breaks into French territory. Two passes later Zack Test was flying down the opposite wing among cheers from the crowd.
The French defense, now on their back foot and playing catch up with the Eagles allowed gaps to open in the middle. Niua found one of these gaps from the ruck set by Test and burst through to touch down under the posts. Conversion was once again made and the Eagles led 14 to 5 over France with one minute left.
Not wanting to take their foot off the pedal and keep this scoring fever going, the Eagles looked for every chance to attack in the last plays of the game. Finally showing patterned and consistent play, the Eagles moved the French defense at will, opening up a gap for young Peter Tiberio. Seconds later he found himself in familiar territory: all alone under the opponent’s posts. He dove over the try line and sealed a great USA victory. The conversion was made and the final whistle was given. USA over France 21 to 5.
The victory over France allows the USA to continue their play in the USA Sevens where they will compete in the Bowl Semifinals tomorrow against Australia.
Tries: Test, Niua, Tiberio
Cons: Suniula (3)