Friday, March 10, 2017

Vancouver 7s Preview: Eagles Riding Momentum

Photo: Connie Hatfield

The Eagles will look to make it three straight trips to the top eight as they head to Vancouver. Vegas was an outstanding tournament for the Eagles where they only lost to England and South Africa in narrow fashion and where they beat New Zealand and took care of business against teams they should beat. However, anything done on the Seven Series only has an impact if it's followed up with another successful tournament. If the U.S. were to miss out on the top eight this week it could erode much of the momentum they have gained. Head coach Mike Friday and staff will want to avoid that but they face a tough pool and the task of having to rebound from a strong showing in front of their home fans.

Fans should have optimism for where the team is headed. At the start of Vegas the team talked about wanting to come out and do the basics well and that everything else would take care of itself after that. Their work at the breakdown was good, defensively they had one of their better showings in awhile, and after a few mistakes they started to connect on passes. If they can up that level this week they will be in a good position to once again crack the top four.

Take the jump to read more.
The tournament will be shown on beginning at 12:30 p.m. et/9:30 a.m. pt.

The Team

Mike Friday hasn't made any changes to the Eagles from Vegas. The only change, if you want to call it that, is Malon Al-Jiboori as an alternate. Al-Jiboori played with Denver in the LVI and was quite good. Overall, there wasn't a lot of need to make changes. The Eagles had a good combination in Vegas and with a third place finish why switch it up. Fatigue could play a factor. Several of the players were beaten up by the turf in Vegas but they should be fine.

Squad: Pat Blair, Ben Pinkelman, Danny Barrett, Matai Leuta, Walt Elder, Andrew Durutalo, Folau Niua, Maka Unufe, Steve Tomasin, Madison Hughes, Perry Baker, Martin Iosefo; Alternate: Malon Al-Jiboori

The Opponents

Japan (12:52 p.m. et/9:52 a.m. pt): Japan sit at the bottom of the standings of the core teams on the Series. That said, after finishing in the Shield semi-finals the first three tournaments they have improved the last two. Still, they are a team the U.S. should beat by a healthy margin to start the day. The U.S. played Japan in Wellington in the Bowl quarterfinals with the U.S. winning 19-14.

France (4:28 p.m. et/1:28 p.m. pt): France have very much been a middle of the road team this year. They have had some success but have also struggled. Opposite of Japan they have struggled more recently than earlier in the year. The U.S. and France have played only once this year, a 21-21 draw in pool play in Wellington. France have traditionally given the U.S. trouble but are a team the U.S. should be beating regularly, especially after last week's display.

Australia (8:08 p.m. et/5:08 p.m. pt): The U.S. and Australia two very evenly matched teams. Both sit tied for 5th in the standings on 52 points. While their head to head match-up in Vancouver isn't going to directly change the standings it will likely decide who wins the pool and thus who gets a better draw. The U.S. beat Australia 19-0 in their only meeting this year.

Keys to the Tournament

No Letdown: The Eagles made the quarterfinals of the first leg of a two leg series for the first time all year in Vegas. They of course need to be in the quarterfinals every time out but it's even more important to do it over your home two legs. If the Eagles want to continue to move up the standings they are going to have to make the top eight in Vancouver and even go above that with another trip to the semi-finals.

Find Baker: Perry Baker was largely quiet in Vegas. When there is no Carlin Isles on the team opposing teams have found ways to limit Baker's effectiveness in the open field. That was fixed last week with players like Danny Barrett stepping up to make big runs and plays but the Eagles could be even more dynamic if they can find a way to get Baker involved.

Restarts: The U.S. were very, very good at restarts last week. They shut down teams by keeping possession. Baker, Barrett, Durutalo, and Niua were all good in that department and it needs to continue this week.

Keep on Keepin' On: After a good week in Vegas they simply need more of the same.

The Takeaway

There aren't really must-win tournaments on the 7s Series unless you are a team that needs to win to try and take the overall title. Right now the Eagles sit too far back (as does everyone) to really try and catch South Africa but they can move into the top four. All that said, it does feel like a must-win simply in terms of keeping momentum. They are playing well and we think they keep that up to keep momentum. A top four finish might not be in the cards but we think they finish above Australia to move up, potentially into contention for a top four place.

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