Saturday, March 3, 2018

Vegas 7s: Eagles Beat England, Make Semis

Photo: Connie Hatfield
By Derek Catsam

The United States Rugby Sevens Eagles thrilled the home crowd with a hard fought 17-12 victory over England that came courtesy of three tries from speed merchant Perry Baker.

The US, with a loud and boisterous crowd behind them (including neutrals who always line up against England and perhaps in rugby alone tend to like the Americans) started off strong but neither team could get the other to break for the first 3 minutes of play. At the 4:10 mark the Americans took possession after an England penalty just outside of the 22 and 40 seconds later Perry Baker touched the ball down after receiving a pass that allowed the speedster to walk in. The long conversion attempt missed but the Eagles had drawn first blood and held a 5-0 lead.

The US tried to steal the kick, could not quite do so and England methodically worked ball inside the 22, where Americans stole ball from a ruck and Perry Baker received the ball out wide. No one’s catching him on their best day and his worst, and he placed the ball down directly behind the center of post for try number two. After a successful Folau Niua conversion, the US held a 12-0 lead. The PA system’s resident wit (who earlier in the afternoon had played “It’s a Small World After All” when a male streaker walked the entire length of the pitch unmolested) played Queen’s “Flash Gordon” for the delirious crowd. On this day Las Vegas was in love with Baker, 2017’s World Rugby Sevens Player of the Year. Actually, they had quite enjoyed the streaker too. That’s Vegas for you.

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The aggressive US once again almost stole possession on the following kick, but England emerged from midfield and Oliver Lindsay-Hague took the ball the rest of the way, his try making it 12-5 at the half and stanching the bleeding for a somewhat stunned England side.

At the 6-minute mark Baker (who else?) took a pass out wide, juked his defender to take the one step of space that means no one in world rugby is catching him. He dotted down his third try of the match, and after a missed conversion the Americans held a 17-5 lead. Visions of a rout danced in the heads of the madding crowd.

England, however, was not prepared to relent. Dan Norton scored a try at the 4-minute mark, and to keep things in deep suspense, Tom Mitchell’s conversion from virtually on the touch line was good, making the score 17-12. Despite Baker’s brilliance there would be no runaway for the US.

A US lineout led to long run by Kevon Williams. But England earned a scrum just outside the defending 10-meter line. After a nifty series of England passes, the US found itself with possession after a dangerous-looking kick ahead by England took a bad (and for England unfortunate) bounce, serving as a reminder that luck has a role to play in sport. Of course given that the Eagles completed 92% of their tackles in the match, they also earned some of that defensive luck.

A wayward last-ditch England pass with 20 seconds left skittered out of bounds, giving the US a lineout at 12 seconds. Unefe controlled it and the Eagles had one last breakaway as the horn sounded – England tackled him at the 5 meter line, someone took exception to whatever was going on in the ruck, and a donnybrook brought in all 14 players, taking considerable time to untangle. On restart the United States kicked into touch, and the Eagles earned a hard-fought 17-12 win to earn their place in the semi-
finals on Sunday.

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