Thursday, January 25, 2018

Sydney 7s Preview: Eagles Hungry For Wins

To say the Eagles would be disappointed by the way they started the season would be an understatement. They were not good in Dubai but did rebound with solid tournament in South Africa where they finished in 6th. There were plenty of good things to take out of that South Africa performance to give hope that the Eagles are ready for a big tournament in Sydney this weekend. They have a tough but winnable pool which could set them up for success.

The Team

Head coach Mike Friday hasn't made many changes to his team that played earlier in the year. Stalwarts like Perry Baker, Danny Barrett, Madison Hughes, Martin Iosefo, Carlin Isles, Matai Leuta, Folau Niua, Ben Pinkelman, Steve Tomasin, and Maka Unufe are all there. This is the group that has delivered a lot of success in the past and now after having the opportunity to get fully healthy and train together for awhile that success could return.

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Joining them on the roster are Joe Schroeder and Chris Mattina. Schroeder has been the revelation of the season so far. He's a big body that is a deceptively good runner. Kevon Williams will be the 13th player alternate.

Squad: Perry Baker, Danny Barrett, Madison Hughes, Martin Iosefo. Carlin Isles, Matai Leuta, Chris Mattina, Folau Niua, Ben Pinkelman, Joe Schroeder, Steve Tomasin, Maka Unufe; Alternate: Kevon Williams

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The Opponents

All matches will be streamed live on ESPN3/WatchESPN.

Australia (Friday, 4:12 a.m. et/1:12 a.m. pt): Facing the hosts in a first match is always difficult. That's compounded when that team, in this case Australia, is always a threat to win the whole thing. Australia have had mixed results so far taking fifth in Dubai but then missing the quarterfinals in Cape Town. If the Eagles can jump out early and silence the crowd they could build up a lead that Australia can't match.

Scotland (Saturday/Friday 12:53 a.m. et/9:53 p.m. pt): The only two core teams lower than the Eagles in the standings at this point are Scotland and Wales. Scotland made the quarterfinals in Dubai but laid an egg in Cape Town finishing in last place. The U.S. have had their struggles against Scotland but they've also picked up some big wins.

Canada (Saturday, 4:26 a.m. et/1:26 a.m. pt): Canada have been very good this year, especially in Cape Town where they finished in fourth. They were just two points away from the final and two points away from upsetting South Africa in the process. Plus, this is a rivalry game so anything goes.

Keys to the Tournament

Possession, possession, possession: We touch on this ad nauseam but this is the key to 7s. If you can hold on to the ball you score and your opponent doesn't. It is as simple as that.

Restarts: One of the big keys to holding on to possession is restarts. The Eagles have been uncharacteristically not good at that so far this year. Having Barrett ready to go is a plus as is Perry Baker. Still, it comes down to Niua putting the ball in a good spot.

Find Speedstick: It was amazing how much the Eagles missed Baker in Cape Town. He is the World Rugby Sevens Player of the Year after all. They need to find him early and often.

The Takeaway

The demons of Dubai could be forgotten if the Eagles come away with a solid tournament. The finish in Dubai probably cost the U.S. a top four spot at the end of the year which is a lesson for next year. However, they can make a big push if they can finish in the top four this weekend. We're not sure a top four is going to happen but we do think the Eagles make it to the quarterfinals.

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