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Friday, April 15, 2016

Singapore 7s Preview: Eagles Out For More


The warm-up to the Olympics continues this week as the Sevens Series moves to Singapore. It's the first time the Series has been in Singapore so every team is going in fresh. That could be a good thing for the Eagles as they tend to do well in new environments. Additionally, with only two tournaments remaining after Singapore the Eagles will be looking to pick up as many points as they can. They currently sit in fifth place 17 points behind Australia for fourth and 11 ahead of Argentina for sixth. It's very unlikely that the U.S. is going to overtake Australia this round but if they have a good tournament they can make up ground. Conversely, if the U.S. slip-up they could fall behind Argentina.

The storyline once again for the Eagles is that this is preparation for the Olympics. Their pool is tight once more and they are going to have to deal with absences, in particular an injury to Carlin Isles and Ben Pinkelman back to school. It's possible that they are going to have their top line-up in Rio but they may not and that is what makes tournaments like this so valuable.

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Similarly, the Eagles are going to aim for a medal position in Singapore. After all, this is yet another try run for Rio and so far they've been disappointed not to be in medal contention (i.e. the top four) in only two tournaments this year. A run to end the season would buoy their confidence heading into Rio.

The tournament starts this evening and will be aired on worldrugby.org.

The Team

Head coach Mike Friday has been forced into one change with Ben Pinkelman needing to head back home for school. Pat Blair, who played well for the Falcons in Vegas and for the Eagles in Vancouver, is coming into the team. Nate Ebner will stay on the team as Carlin Isles has also gone back to the U.S. for treatment. Losing Pinkelman will hurt but it could open up a door for Zack Test to move back into the starting line-up, arguably where he is most effective. Test needs a shot of confidence and this move might make it happen. Additionally, expect Ebner to see more time this tournament. He didn't see much time in Hong Kong due to having just played in a 10s tournament.

Squad: Nate Ebner, Pat Blair, Danny Barrett, Garrett Bender, Zack Test, Peter Tiberio, Folau Niua, Maka Unufe, Nate Augspurger, Madison Hughes (C), Perry Baker, Martin Iosefo

The Opponents

Canada (11:06 p.m. et/8:06 p.m. pt): By their standards Canada has struggled this year. They have yet to make it out of the Bowl round although they've won it twice. They sit 13th in the standings. The script is almost completely flipped from a couple of years ago when Canada were pushing near the top of the standings and the U.S. was near the bottom of the table. Even more, Canada struggled in Hong Kong. Yes, they did take Fiji to the limit, which shows what they are capable of, but their only wins at the tournament came against South Korea and lowly Portugal. Still, they are a rival and any taking them lightly will be trouble. Go back to Vegas and their draw with the U.S. that almost cost the U.S. dear. This one is going to be a cracker.

France (2:27 a.m. et/11:27 p.m. pt): If the U.S. get past Canada they will face France for potentially a spot in the Cup quarterfinals. France a tricky team that has given the U.S. problems in the match but overall the U.S. have done well against them this year. They last played in Vancouver where the U.S. won 42-14. Again, France are not a team you can take lightly. They may be 11th in the standings but they finished third in South Africa.

New Zealand (5:48 a.m. et/2:48 a.m. pt): Last up for the Eagles are the All Blacks. Until the U.S. lost to New Zealand in Vancouver the Eagles had actually been on a winning streak. Their physicality can cause the All Blacks problems and if they are able to hold on to the ball they can simply out possess them. New Zealand tend to earn the benefit of the calls, especially in matches where both teams are likely into the next round and there is less pressure on the referee. However, if the Eagles come out aggressive early they can earn the favor of the ref and that could be the difference in the result.

Keys to the Tournament

Energy: In both of the last two Plate finals the Eagles seemed to run out of steam. That says a lot about the effort they put in the previous five matches but at the same time sends a signal that they need to take a step up. Outside of the Plate finals, the Eagles have great energy, something that they should get with Canada up first.

Restarts: When the Eagles saw success in Hong Kong it was because they simply didn't let the opposition have the ball. Pinkelman was good at that but so is Test. It's up to both the jumpers and the kickers to make sure that in all their matches this weekend they are able to hold on to the ball.

Be Clinical: This is a vague phrase and one we're hesitant to use here but it seems that over the last few weeks the U.S. is more concerned about making the extra pass rather than backing themselves and going for it. This seems the case especially with Perry Baker. The opposite is Danny Barrett who barrels through opponents.

Penalties: The U.S. have actually been fairly good at limiting their penalty count this year. This is more about drawing attention to offense on the other side. The U.S. always look like they are not sure of when to mention something to the referee because of the reputation of Americans as "boisterous." That's our opinion of course but the point stands that they need to make sure they are getting their fair share of the calls.

The Takeaway

The Eagles have made the Cup quarterfinals for over a complete season now. As always, one slip-up in the pool and they could be out but time and time again they've found a way to achieve their minimum goal. We think that this weekend is no different and that they make it through. We also think that with Hong Kong behind them and back to a two day format that they find their groove and make the top four.

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