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Thursday, December 1, 2016

Dubai 7s Men's Preview: Time To Set A Standard


The Eagles 7s embark on a new Olympic cycle today as they head to the Dubai 7s. While the team will have many of the same names that play in Rio there is a lot of turnover on the team and that is going to have an impact. That said, nearly every other team on the Series is facing the same sort of changes. These few first tournaments are going to be key not just for the Eagles but for every other team on the Series to lay down a marker for the rest of the year and potentially the next Olympic cycle. Think about the mental edge that teams like Fiji, New Zealand, South Africa, and England have been able to gain over the last few years. That comes from consistency and excelling but there is also certainly an element of teams going into matches against you knowing that the odds are not with them to win.

While the Eagles disappointing showing in Rio signal they are not among the top teams yet their history suggests that at this point they should be beating nearly all the teams on the Series regularly and then challenging the likes of Fiji for wins. Teams like Scotland, who they open the tournament against, should be nearly automatic wins. That hasn't been the case the last few years but that's the goal. If the Eagles can head into a pool like the one they have this weekend with Scotland, Uganda, and South Africa, they should feel like they should be Scotland, will wipe away Uganda, and then compete against South Africa with a good shot at winning. Make no mistake, the Eagles have done that in the past, especially last year and the year before, but now it's about making it a consistent thing and making the top four every tournament.

Take the jump to read more.
The tournament will be streamed on worldrugby.org.

The Team

As mentioned, head coach Mike Friday has taken a mix of Olympic veterans as well as relative newcomers. Andrew Durutalo, Madison Hughes, Folau Niua, Danny Barrett, Maka Unufe, Perry Baker, and Martin Iosefo all played in Rio. Injury absences and rest absences mean that Steve Tomasin and Matai Leuta, both of whom have seen Series time in the past comes into the team. Newcomers include former Cal standout Alec Gletzer, Anthony Welmers, and Kevon Williams from the Denver Barbarians. The team traveled with 13 players but only 12 will play in Dubai.

Overall, it's a team built like many of the other teams Friday has put together. The likes of Durutalo, Iosefo, and Barrett can provide the power while Baker and Williams are the speedsters. Look for Madison Hughes and Don Pati to take the playmaking roles. In particular, we're looking for big tournaments from Iosefo and Leuta. Both were on the Eagles November test squad and we think that experience should give them the confidence to succeed. We're also looking at Niua for a big tournament. Arguably the Eagles biggest x-factor will be Maka Unufe. When he is on he takes the team to a whole new level.

Squad: Andrew Durutalo, Alec Gletzer, Madison Hughes, Folau Niua, Danny Barrett, Don Pati, Steve Tomasin, Maka Unufe, Perry Baker, Martin Iosefo, Matai Leuta, Anthony Welmers, Kevon Williams

The Opponents

Scotland (12:44 a.m. et/9:44 p.m. pt): We talked about this earlier but this is match the Eagles need to win regularly. Scotland has given them problems over the last few years. How Scotland handles their team post-Great Britain and the Olympics is a question but they have the talent and they've seen success. They can be out muscled and the Eagles need to set the tone early. If they struggle against Scotland they could find themselves out of the top eight.

Uganda (3:44 a.m. et/12:44 p.m. pt): Uganda do not have a lot of experience at the World Series level. This is a match that the Eagles not only need to win but must crush Uganda.

South Africa (10:06 a.m. et/7:06 a.m. pt): The Olympic bronze medalists have once again loaded their team with talent. The Blitzbokke will be tough to beat and you can expect that they will be focused and ready to be the top team on the Series. That said, the Eagles have beaten South Africa in the past and it comes from starving them of the ball. The Blitzbokke will capitalize on any mistake so they must take care of the ball.

Keys to the Tournament

Killer Instinct: There is a maybe a better way of putting that but what did the Eagles in at the Olympics was not pouring it on when they should have. They could have advanced had they simply scored another try against Brazil or hit a conversion. They don't have the same risks in a 16-team tournament as a 12-team tournament but the principle is the same: you can never take your foot off the gas. Top teams are full out from the first second to the last. The Eagles need to similarly put in a 14 minute performance every time.

Restarts: This is an area in which the Eagles have traditionally excelled and need to do so again. Perry Baker has become very good at going up for the ball but he's going to need help as Zack Test and Ben Pinkelman are both out. Matai Leuta is a good candidate to step up as is Alec Gletzer. 7s is all about possession and if the Eagles can win restart after restart they will certainly beat a team like Scotland.

Breakdown: Although the breakdown is a general term that encompasses a large part of the game it's so important to get it right. Barrett and Durutalo have been very effective in the past at winning the ball back and keeping possession. The ball can't be given away cheaply.

The Takeaway

As we saw with the Women Eagles earlier today things don't always go according to plan. Fans shouldn't sound alarm bells if the Eagles fail to make the Cup quarterfinals. However, if the Eagles show regression from where they were last year then they can certainly be disappointed. We don't think the Eagles will under perform, in fact, we think they make the Cup quarterfinals but don't expect them to be as sharp as they have been in the past. If the Eagles can win the small battles and show general improvement then the tournament should be considered a success.





1 comment:

  1. Spot on about Unufe. If he can become consistent this team will fly.

    ReplyDelete