Samoa sneaks by USA, Eagles go 1-2 in RSA

For Immediate Release
December 9, 2011
Samoa sneaks past USA, Eagles go 1-2 on day one of South Africa Sevens
PORT ELIZABETH, South Africa -- The USA Men's Eagle Sevens team went 1-2 on day one of the Nelson Mandela Bay South Africa Sevens, the third stop on the HSBC Sevens World Series with a win over Argentina (21-14) and losses to Samoa (12-14) and England (7-26).  The USA will take on Zimbabwe in the bowl quarterfinal tomorrow (Saturday December 10) at 4:16 a.m. ET.  
The Eagles were tied with England at the half following a converted Zack Test try.  However, England slipped away in the last three minutes and scored 19 unanswered points for the win.
Argentina started the first and second halves strong, but couldn't get it together against a very sharp USA outfit.  Three excellent tries and conversions led to the USA victory and a good shake up in the Pool A standings, setting the stage for a thriller against Samoa to finish the day for the Eagles.
Samoa had a strong start against the USA and scored two converted tries inside of three minutes to start the game.  A cool head and violent fend from Nick Edwards gave the Eagles a five pointer before halftime to close the gap to seven points.  A heroic try-saving tackle from captain Shalom Suniula as the first half ended put the USA within striking distance at the interval.
The Eagles matched Samoa's two tries in the second half, but an extremely tricky conversion from the touch line for Suniula just missed and the tying points bounced off the upright.  With time ticking down, a barrage of Eagle attacks were thwarted by the Samoans.  A penalty with a minute to go in regulation gave Samoa an opportunity to slow the game down and watch their two point lead turn into a victory.  
Read full match reports and box scores below.
Allowing teams to get on the board early is something USA Head Coach Al Caravelli and the Eagles will look to rectify on day two.  However, the coach also noted that the team was gelling very well on both sides of the ball.
"Our defensive scheme is intact now and guys are understanding what we want to do from an attacking perspective.  Things are falling into place," Caravelli said.  However, there are still improvements to be made.
"We need to stay patient throughout the entire game," the coach said.  "Anytime we have possession, it becomes a critical moment in the game.  As we develop as a team, the better we understand that, the better we become." 
Looking to tomorrow's clash with Zimbabwe, the Eagles aren't going to be looking past their quarterfinal opponents even though they handled Zimbabwe 41-7 last weekend in Dubai.  Caravelli recalls a similar situation in back-to-back tournaments last season saying, "We can't take Zimbabwe lightly.  If you look at it, we've only beaten them twice.  We trounced them in Dubai last year and then they came to South Africa and beat us."
The USA have struggled on day one during the last two tournaments in Dubai and Australia, so a solid showing in arguably the toughest pool in South Africa is a promising sign for not only tomorrow but the rest of the season as well.  Caravelli credits the team's mental toughness and cohesiveness for the turnaround.
"We've been together for 32 days right now and I have to give credit to the entire team, staff and players, for keeping the mental side of the game focused when it has to be, and also knowing when to unwind," said the coach. 
With 15 players going full-time in January 2012, Caravelli noted that the mental fortitude his team showed today will be a key to success in that environment.
The semifinal and final rounds of the tournament will be shown live on


Friday December 9, 2011

USA v. England (5:21 a.m. ET)


A strong first half saw the scores level at halftime in the Eagles' opening Pool A clash of the South Africa Sevens.  A lack of execution in England's 22 and sloppy play in the second half saw the game slip away with England run away with 19 unanswered points.


Zack Test's try on a loop move off of Matt Hawkins quickly negated momentum England had from their early score.  The Eagles pinned the English back in their own half for the remainder of the half, but just failed to convert possession into points.


England resorted to the boot in the second half, relying on keeping the ball in the Eagles' half of the field.  Miles Craigwell who did well to get back and cover, foiled a chip and chase from Marcus Watson.  A strong tackle on Mike Palefau dislodged the ball and Watson fell on it for a try.  Moments later, Mat Turner put in a chip behind the cover defense and collected for another quick try.  Sloppy passing gave England a soft score with time ticking down as Nick Royle strolled into the try zone to finish the game.



Tries: Test

Cons: Niua


England 26

Tries: Rodwell, Watson, Turner, Royle

Cons: Watson (2), Lewis-Pratt 


USA v. Argentina (8:49 a.m. ET)

Argentina tried their best to put the Eagles under pressure, charging kickoffs and scoring on the opening plays in both the first and second halves.  However, those two scores were the only two they managed against the Eagles.  Three excellent tries gave the Eagles a 21-14 win over the Argentinians.


Augustine Migliore used his pace to go 80 meters to open the scoring.  Mike Palefau got the Eagles back in it straight away, finishing a beautiful team try.  Matt Hawkins stretched the field and passed to Test.  Test cut in and offloaded to Shalom Suniula who ran a good angle and drew the defense with him.  Palefau called for a switch and went in effortlessly for the score.  The Eagles looked after the ball well and minimized turnovers in the first half.  


Argentina struck early in the second half.  A strong contest from the kickoff gave Argentina possession and a quick ruck set up a try on the outside as Gonzalo Gutierrez Taboada held the defense and sliced through a gap to finish.  Matt Hawkins leveled the scores with three minutes to go, getting the ball on the wing.  Hawkins showed that just because he's big doesn't mean he can't side step.  He juked and fended his way to the goal line and scored directly under the posts.  Folau Niua hit his second conversion of the game.


A frantic finish to the game saw the USA put together their best attack of the day.  Mark Bokhoven offloaded in contact to Miles Craigwell who made 10 meters and popped off the deck to his captain, Shalom Suniula who was absolutely screaming onto the ball.  A nice break opened the field up and Bokhoven ran a great support line, gathered the ball and scored under the posts.  


USA 21

Tries: Palefau, Hawkins, Bokhoven

Cons: Niua (3)


Argentina 14

Tries: Migliore, Gutierrez Taboada

Cons: Gutierrez Taboada (2)


USA v. Samoa (11:26 a.m. ET)

Samoa snuck by the Eagles with a final score of 12-14 in the last encounter of the day for the USA.  The Americans gave the Pacific Islanders a very hard fought game and one that Samoa was thankful to hold on to.


Afa Aiono put a massive fend on USA veteran Mark Bokhoven to score the first try of the match inside if a minute.  Bokhoven atoned by making a dazzling break in midfield and nearly put Nick Edwards through for a try, but he was bulldogged by the Samoan defender. 


Simaika Mikaele added another try two minutes later and the game seemed to be slipping away from the USA.  They didn't panic and were rewarded with try before halftime as Edwards sniped through a gap and fended his way to the try zone with time almost expired in the first period.  USA captain Shalom Suniula made a try-saving tackle just before halftime to keep it to a seven point ball game.


Matt Hawkins scored the potential equalizer in an almost identical try to his against Argentina earlier in the day.  He stepped in, put in two strong fends and willed his way to five points, scoring in the far right corner.  The conversion was tough for Suniula and the ball hit the left upright, inches away from equalizing the score.


A barrage of USA attacks were weathered by Samoa, who got a penalty with a minute to go and took their time kicking to touch.  They simply secured possession (although Zack Test nearly stole it) at the lineout and waited for the siren to signal the end of the game.  


USA 12

Tries: Edwards, Hawkins

Cons: Suniula


Samoa 14

Tries: Aiono, Mikaele

Cons: Lui