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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Olympic 7s: U.S. Medal Dreams End With Loss To Fiji


7s can be an exciting yet cruel game as the Eagles found out in their final pool play match at the Rio Olympics. With New Zealand losing to Great Britain earlier in the day it opened up an opportunity for the U.S. to make the quarterfinals with either a win against Fiji or a loss by less than four points. Unfortunately neither happened as the U.S. fell 24-19 and will now face hosts Brazil in the 9-12th placement semi-finals.

In a game of inches the U.S. had several opportunities to get the deficit within the margin they needed or pick up the win but a crucial missed conversion and an equally crucial make from Fiji, as well as a number of other factors, including giving up a try with no time left in the half and up and man, contributed to the loss. It's far too early to tell how missing out on the quarterfinals is going to impact the U.S. program but with the USOC being results oriented there is no question that there will be repercussions from the loss.

Like they had done all year on the Sevens Series the U.S. competed hard against Fiji early and had the majority of the possession. However, the possession didn't turn into points as Fiji showed their dominance at the breakdown with a turnover. That was a theme that would repeat itself throughout the match.

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Still, the match was tilted in favor of the U.S. early and soon they were rewarded. After winning the battle at the breakdown themselves Ben Pinkelman through a nice pass out to Danny Barrett who slalomed his way through the defense for the score. With the conversion the U.S. led 7-0.

After the U.S. had created another turnover they looked like they were going to have a great opportunity but once again it was Fiji with the turnover of their own. Showing the great Fijian skills that only few possess they then put in a clinical counterattack that saw them score. With one last play in the half it was knotted up at 7-7.

On that last play the U.S. did have several chances helped by Fiji having a man sent to the bin for taking out Ben Pinkelman in the air. However, it was the breakdown once again that created a turnover that led to another counterattack try. It was a heartbreaking score for the Eagles as they now went into the half down 12-7.

That margin was big enough to knock them out of the quarterfinals so they knew they needed to get things going in the second half. That's exactly what happened as Pinkelman intercepted a Fijian pass and soon the ball found the hands of Perry Baker who raced around the defense for the score. With the conversion the U.S. led 14-12.

However, the day belonged to Fiji and the U.S. found themselves in a big hole when another counterattack led to Fiji's third try of the match. Had the conversion missed the U.S. would have been down only three, within the margin they needed, but it sailed through the posts and they trailed 19-14.   Moments later Fiji would score too easily to increase their margin to 24-14. That conversion missed meaning the Eagles only needed a converted try to advance.

They got their try on the restart when Chris Wyles did well to take the ball at pace and then find Nate Ebner for the score. Unfortunately Madison Hughes was not able to make the conversion. But with time left on the clock the U.S. had a chance with a line out deep in their own end. Once again it was the Fiji breakdown work that created the turnover to end the match.

In the end it's a bitter result for the U.S. who had such high hopes in their return to the Olympics. Their pool was always going to be tough and the tone was set with their disappointing loss to Argentina. Missed kicks, missed opportunities to score more tries, uncharacteristic defensive lapses, and a number of dropped balls were the theme of the team through pool play. Players that have usually been stars on the Series were noticeably not at their best in the tournament when the team needed them the most.

The U.S. will now have to focus on finishing out the tournament strong with a run to 9th place, beginning with Brazil at 3:00 p.m. et/12:00 p.m. pt.

5 comments:

  1. Yes, a real disappointment. And it is hard really to say what was wrong - as the article mentions, it was a bit of everything. I suppose it was a lot of pressure on a developing team under the most intense spotlight that sport has - the Olympics. NZ are a team who don't handle pressure well, failing to win as many world cups as you'd expect. Contrast that with Japan, who appear clinical under pressure (certainly of late in high pressure games). May be it's the continent - the 15s loss to Uruguay was perhaps a bad omen!

    Anyway, whatever, you can't really point to a star player, a US player who set an example to everybody else and could lift the whole team with an individual performance, which is probably what was needed when the engine was misfiring.

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  2. The coolest heads under pressure belonged to Wyles and Ebner. Their experiences in grand stages showed as they had composure. It's something the rest of the team still needs to develop.

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  3. Folau Niua killed them, starting with that idiotic last kickoff with his weak foot against Argentina. That gifted Argentina the last chance for a try with no time left, which they got. He missed some key tackles against Fiji, but if they make their usual kickoff against Argentina we're not talking about not making the medal round.

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    1. I couldn't agree with you more- he needs tons of mental toughness counseling!

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    2. I couldn't agree with you more. He needs tons of mental toughness counseling!

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