Friday, April 14, 2017

Singapore 7s Preview: How High Can The Eagles Go?

Is there pressure on the Eagles to win this week in Singapore? They team obviously believes every time they step on the pitch that they are going to not just win the match but the tournament. You wouldn't expect a different attitude from a very competitive group. At the same time, reality has said the one of Fiji, England, or especially South Africa is going to take home the top prize at the end of the day. Those three teams are the only ones to have made the final this year. Now that the Eagles have made the top four three times in a row is there pressure to break into that top group?

It's a complicated answer but essential it has to be a yes. Making the top four is fantastic but the Sevens Series is not just about reaching one plateau and then staying there, it is about constantly trying to be better. What we have seen from the Eagles have the last three weeks is a completely new level that the team can reach. Now, anything other than the top four would be a disappointment. Even more, they need to go above and beyond by breaking into that final match and winning a tournament.

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They have been close. Last week they nearly knocked off South Africa in the semi-finals only to lose in extra time. They had an opportunity to win that match but couldn't come up with a late score. Teams like South Africa and Fiji don't make mistakes and they punish yours. The Eagles are getting to that point but as we saw it was one or two simple errors that prevented the Eagles from going through. If they want to reach that next level they need to become the team forcing top teams into turnovers and then making them pay. They are capable of that but we'll see what happens this weekend.

The Team

Head coach Mike Friday hasn't made any changes to the team that played in Hong Kong. Everyone has come out healthy and are looking good. At this point in the season he's settled on a fairly tight rotation of Durutalo, Hughes, Niua, Barrett, Tomasin, Unufe, Baker, Pinkelman, and Iosefo. Expect those players to be the core once again this weekend with maybe Mike Te'o and Matai Leuta seeing more time.

Squad: Andrew Durutalo, Madison Hughes, Folau Niua, Mike Te'o, Danny Barrett, Steve Tomasin, Maka Unufe, Perry Baker, Ben Pinkelman, Matai Leuta, Martin Iosefo, Anthony Welmers; Alternate: Malon Al-Jiboori

The Opponents

Wales (1:36 a.m. et/10:36 p.m. pt): After starting out the season really well in Dubai Wales have been on a general downslide since then with only a couple of more trips into the top eight. They finished in a dismal 14th place last week in Hong Kong and 10th in the table. On paper this should be a win for the Eagles but their previous match this year, a 19-10 win for the U.S. in the Plate semi-finals in Sydney was close. If the Eagles don't come out focused, and they've historically had problems with that, they could get caught out.

Scotland (4:34 a.m. et/1:34 a.m. pt): Scotland have given the Eagles a lot of trouble this year. Scotland won 14-5 in pool pla in Dubai and the 24-19 in the Cup quarterfinals in Cape Town. However, the Eagles did win 19-14 last week in pool play. Like Wales, Scotland have had troubles since the first part of the year. After making the top four in two of the first three tournaments they haven't been back in the top eight. Last week they did win the Challenge Trophy. In what is expected to be a tight pool the Eagles have to have this as a must-win match.

New Zealand (8:50 a.m. et/5:50 a.m pt): For ages the All Blacks were the team the Eagles couldn't beat. Now it's New Zealand that are slight underdogs against the Eagles. The U.S. has had good form against New Zealand the last couple of years and even beat them 19-15 for third place in Vegas. They also lost in pool play in Wellington but the Eagles definitely have it in them to win regularly.

The Takeaway

We're skipping our Keys to the Tournament this go around because the Eagles are playing very well and thre are only small things keeping them from being one of the top teams. It will be disappointing if the Eagles don't make the top four again in Singapore but as long as they make the top eight it should be a good tournament. They have a very tough pool and it could leave them exhausted for day two. A win over New Zealand would be especially nice. They trail the All Blacks in the standings and anything they can do to give themselves a boost would be a huge plus.

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