Thursday, May 12, 2016

Preview: Eagles Ready For Paris 7s

Barring something crazy the Eagles aren't going to move up in the standings after this weekend's Paris 7s. Fiji, South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia are firmly entrenched as the top four with Australia twenty points ahead of the Eagles. Paris, like the rest of the Series has been, is about working toward Rio, which is now just months away. The Eagles have just two more tournaments (possibly a summer tournament or two) to work out any final kinks ahead of the Olympics and they are going to get some tough competition to help them do that.

Even though the Eagles aren't likely to move up in the standings there is a threat that they could fall. Argentina are just three points behind them in sixth place and Kenya are ten points back. Even more, Kenya have a lot of momentum at the moment having won the Singapore 7s. Momentum is a big thing is 7s. All you have to do is look back at last year's London 7s to see what winning a tournament can do for a team. After missing out on the Cup competition for the first time all season in Singapore the Eagles won't want to see some of their momentum slip away right before the Olympics. Table aside, this is a big tournament.

Take the jump to read more.
The Team

Head coach Mike Friday and staff have only made a couple of changes for the team that played in Singapore. Ben Pinkelman is available once again and is back in the team. Thretton Palamo will also play once again as he'll get a chance to make an impact ahead of final selections for Rio. Out from Singapore are Pat Blair and Pete Tiberio.

Although the competition at the OTC has been fierce the selection for the squad has been remarkably consistent. The core group of Danny Barrett, Garrett, Bender, Zack Test, Folau Niua, Maka Unufe, Nate Augspurger, Madison Hughes, Perry Baker, and Martin Iosefo has largely been together all season barring injury. Even more, they've been together for the last several years and that continuity is really exhibiting itself.

Also on the team is Nate Ebner, who will once again get a look. He saw more time in Singapore and did well. He's still getting up to pace but there is no better time to throw him out there than in the last two legs. Brett Thompson, Kevin Swiryn, and Carlin Isles are all still injured.

Squad: Nate Ebner, Ben Pinkelman, Danny Barrett, Garrett Bender, Zack Test, Thretton Palamo, Folau Niua, Maka Unufe, Nate Augspurger, Madison Hughes, Perry Baker, Martin Iosefo

The Opponents

Argentina (May 13th, 2:28 p.m. et/11:28 a.m. pt): The U.S. and Argentina are neck and neck this year. Both teams have had consistent finishes although Argentina have slipped into the Bowl one more time than the Eagles. When Argentina they have been very good, as evidenced by a second place finish in Cape Town and a fourth place finish in Singapore. They are firing at the right time and are going to be a challenge for the Eagles. The Eagles have played Argentina once, a 26-14 win in pool play in Hong Kong.

France (May 14th, 6:20 a.m. et/3:20 a.m. pt): Facing the home team at any tournament can be difficult. France may not have had the season they would have liked but at nearly every turn they have given the U.S. trouble. France won their meeting 26-21 in pool play in Dubai before the Eagles returned the favor 29-21 in Wellington. That said, the U.S. did have a big advantage in Vancouver winning 42-14. France are going to benefit from having Virimi Vakatawa, who may be one of the best players on the Series. No matter how the U.S. does against Argentina this match will likely determine whether they get out of the pool or not.

Canada (May 14th, 9:09 a.m. et/6:09 a.m. pt): All you have to do is see the eyes of the Eagles light up when you mention playing Canada to know how much this means. This is a huge rivalry no matter how you dice it. Canada have had their moments and the U.S. have had theirs. Right now the U.S. is in an upswing. They drew 26-26 in a memorable match in Vegas and then the U.S. won 36-14 in Singapore. However, you can throw those results out the window when these two teams get together. It should be a match the Eagles win but they can't take it easy.

Keys to the Tournament

Play Their Game: By now the Eagles aren't going to do anything dramatically new. There is always adding a wrinkle or two but by and large it's about perfecting your system. The Eagles have shown consistently that they are a top team. That comes from winning possession either by keeping their restarts or making a great defensive play. Last year when they won in London it was because they had players like Andrew Durutalo that were absolutely devastating at the breakdown. If every player can be a ball hawk then there is no reason why they can't win in Paris.

Kicking: Conversions have been off this season. It might be because teams are pushing the Eagles further out wide making the conversions more difficult but it's something to keep an eye on.

Gain Momentum: As mentioned earlier, this tournament is all about gaining momentum. That begins from the moment they step out on to the pitch against Argentina. Intensity has to start from moment one.

The Takeaway

As mentioned multiple times, this is a warm-up for Rio. That means the Eagles shouldn't be satisfied with just making the final eight, they need to be in the top four. After all, only the top four in Rio get to play for a medal. The Eagles are going to need to knock off some of the top teams more consistently if they want to do that. They have beaten the top sides but it needs to be more a more regular thing, especially on day two. They have a tough draw in Paris but it's one where if you finish in the top two you could have some strong momentum on day two. It all comes down to how the U.S. does against Argentina. If you get off to a good start you are going to have a good tournament.

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