Eagles Cap Season in Edinburgh
After a bruising Saturday in Edinburgh, the Eagles were set to face Kenya in the Emirates Airline Edinburgh Sevens Bowl Quarterfinals. A tight 15-17 loss to the Kenyans sent the USA to the Shield Semifinals. Russia would score a late try to pull away and eventually hang on to win, eliminating the Eagles from Shield Final contention.
In their 17 previous encounters, Kenya had won 10 games and they would increase that tally to 11 against the USA. Undoubtedly the Kenyans had thoughts of the Eagles hoisting the Bowl in Adelaide after defeating the Kenyans 17-10 at that tournament. It would be the Americans who lost on Sunday though.
Shalom Suniula struck first against Kenya, showcasing his elusive side step and penetrating speed to score as the Kenyan fringe defense was a shambles after Paul Emerick plowed through the ruck and took two Kenyan defenders with him. However after the early Eagle strike, Kenya upped their intensity at the breakdown and were able to capitalize on an American penalties.
The Kenyans had scored two converted tries by halftime and converted one from the reaches of touch and scored two very important points.
Zack Test was back in action after missing Saturday, and was able to be on the end of a simple move through the hands off a quick tap, bringing the USA within two points of Kenya. Moments later, Test was over for another try and the Eagles were ahead.
Each team scored one more try before the game was done, but the missed conversions came back to haunt Team USA as Kenya scored with time expired, but Emerick's tenacity was deemed as misdirected by the ref and sent the Eagle veteran off with a yellow card, giving Kenya time to set up a move.
Kenya formed a maul at halfway off a called play and were able to catch the USA unprepared for the mass of Kenyan bodies in the middle of the field. The try was scored as a Kenyan player peeled off of the maul.
It was a heartbreaker for the Eagles, who knew at that point they were destined for another Shield Semifinal.
After that emotional loss to Kenya, the Eagles had to turnaround and face a very good Russia side. In another tight game though, Russia prevailed and advanced to the Shield Final.
Colin Hawley looked very fresh against Russia and played very sound rugby to advance the ball everytime he touched it. But more importantly he didn't throw away possession. You can't play rugby without the ball and Hawley did well to do his part to let his team play.
The veteran Nese Malifa scored first for the Eagles throwing a very convincing dummy pass to step behind the Russian defense and score directly under the posts. He converted his own try and the game was tied.
Emerick was back at his physical best, going into contact on his own terms and always using his powerful legs to drive defenders back. It was a snipe around the edges that gave the Eagles the lead as Emerick snuck around the blindside and dotted one down right before halftime.
At halftime, USA Head Coach Al Caravelli told his team to let the ball do the work and to stick to their pattern, but the second half just got away from the Eagles.
Captain Matt Hawkins played strong defense and kept pressuring the Russians at the breakdown. Perhaps as a result, the Russians made a concerted effort to offload in contact and not engage in on-the-ground scuffles with the big USA team.
The offload tactic worked for the Russians and were able to level the scores at 12 apiece. With just a minute to go in the game, a missed tackle resulted in a Russian try, which would prove to be the game-winner.
The USA turned over the ball after trying a last-gasp scoring attempt and is how the Edinburgh story ends for the Eagles.
After eight grueling stops on the HSBC Sevens World Series, the USA Men's Sevens team will now look forward to the Pan-Am Games in October.