Sunday, January 28, 2018

Sydney 7s: Resilient Eagles Finish In Fourth

The U.S. needed a rebound tournament to help give them momentum for the rest of the season and they got it as they finished fourth in Sydney. Last year they showed they were capable of making a top four at every tournament and this year was the first time they looked similarly as good this season. It did come at a cost with both Madison Hughes and Steve Tomasin being lost to injury.

Now three tournaments into the season the U.S. are firmly in 7th place. They were 12th coming into the weekend.  The Eagles are just a couple of points ahead of France and nine points behind England for sixth place. Fourth place Argentina are 13 points ahead. If the U.S. can pick up more points in Hamilton next week they should be in good shape.

Eagles 19-26 Australia

The Eagles faced a tough task in their opening match as they faced the hosts Australia on Australia Day. That Aussie momentum was hard to stop with Boyd Killingsworth scoring just a minute into thematic when the U.S. slipped too many tackles. The U.S. did have some good looking possession early but unfortunately knocked it on. That led to more possession from Australia which was all they needed. Not helping the cause was Marin Iosefo being sent to the bin. Soon after Ben O'Donnell scored to push Australia's lead to 14-0. Australia would add another before the half and simply looked like a more aggressive and clinical side.

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Perry Baker got his amazing weekend started well with a fantastic individual try to start the second half. Australia had him double teamed but it wasn't a problem as he lulled them into sleep and he burnt them with pace. Iosefo would then score not long after to give themselves life at 19-14. Later, with four minutes to go the U.S. did a great job of working the ball across the pitch to Ben Pinkelman for the equalizing score. It was a quick and fantastic comeback from the Eagles initiated by Baker sucking in so much attention.

That attention paid to Baker looked like it was going to pay off when the speedster broke the line. He got some support from his teammates but not enough as the ball was eventually spilled. That led to Australia going the other way and scoring the go ahead try with a minute left. From there it was simple clock management.

Eagles 26-12 Scotland

Hoping to shake off the disappointment from their previous match on day one the Eagles came out with a better attitude against Scotland on day two of the competition. Scotland had crushed Canada in their opener but the Eagles were up to the task. In a pattern similar to day one the U.S. looked for Baker early and often. The breakthrough finally came when Perry Baker popped the ball loose from a Scottish player and raced away for the opening try. Possession was paramount as the Eagles kept the ball and were secure with their offloads. That led to Danny Barrett scoring. Off the restart they picked up another from Steve Tomasin and the U.S. were in business. Yet, they were done in the half. Folau Niua made one of the plays of the weekend with a kick ahead to Baker who outran the defense. It was four quick tries to end the half and a 26-0 lead.

The second half wasn't nearly as smooth with Scotland scoring twice. Again, it was about possession and the Eagles didn't always have it as a few errors, and better defense from Scotland, cost them.

Eagles 40-19 Canada

Closing out pool play was the North American rivalry. It turned out to be the Perry Baker show. He scored the first two of four tries thanks to a beautiful offloads from Iosefo and Danny Barrett.  Soon the Eagles had three tries in three minutes as they won yet another restart. It was their bread and butter all weekend. Folau Niua did a fantastic job with his kicking to serve it up for the tall Eagles to go get the ball and keep possession.

After that opening spell, in which Canada didn't complete a pass, it was more equal. Baker would slalom through the defense to score his third of the match with two minutes left in the half. Canada would score just before the half to make it 28-7 at the break. The U.S. would score the next two tries from Baker and Pinkelman in quick succession. That allowed the U.S. to empty the bench and gave Canada a chance to score a couple of tries.

Eagles 24-7 Fiji

Arguably the best match of the Eagles all weekend was their Cup quarterfinal victory over Fiji.  For sure the Olympic champions after undergone some changes but they still have a team that is always a threat to win the tournament. Still, the Eagles made them look ordinary at times. It once again focused on Baker. He nearly scored a minute in if not for a last minute tackle.

One of the best strengths of the Eagles all weekend was their defense. Yes, it wasn't perfect but against Fiji they came up particularly strong. It led to their first try as they stole a lineout and marched their way down the pitch for Folau Niua to score. It was the type of patience that proved so reliable last season and is welcome this year. That patience also helped them keep possession with Fiji barely touching the ball in the first half. However, when they did they scored a try to make it 7-5. There was time for one last play and off the restart Iosefo made them pay with a fantastic effort. At the half the U.S. led 12-7.

Iosefo would prove to be influential in the second half as well. He was at the center of the action once again drawing in the defense in the center of the pitch and offloading to Maka Unufe for the first score of the half. The U.S. would extend their lead with yet another won restart and taking care of the ball. It would be fitting that Baker would have the final honors.

Eagles 7-35 South Africa

Unfortunately the Cup semi-finals didn't go as well for the Eagles. They faced a very tough side in South Africa while they themselves were tired and with plenty of bruises. In the Cup semi-final South Africa jumped out to a 7-0 lead thanks to Seabelo Senatla. Baker would help equalize things but that would pretty much be it for the Eagles. A yellow card to Niua allowed South Africa to score one more try before the half. It was still manageable for the Eagles at 14-7 at the half but the second half was all South Africa with three more tries.

Eagles 10-31 Argentina

The loss to South Africa put the U.S. in the third place match against Argentina. Like against South Africa, Argentina scored first. They got two tries to go up 12-0. The U.S. got back into it through Martin Iosefo. However, Argentina kept coming in the second half to push the score to 31-5 before Ben Pinkelman scored.

When you look back at the weekend the U.S. lost three times but all three of those teams finished in first, second, and third place. That's not a bad shift. Even better, the Eagles looked fluid and had energy from a number of players. Next up: Hamilton

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