Eagles Action at Day One of USA Sevens
USA vs Canada
Las Vegas, Nev. -- As the sun began to set on Sam Boyd Stadium the USA Sevens got under way on Friday evening and the Eagles took the field to prove to themselves, and their adoring fans, that last weekend's performance in Wellington was to be forgotten. They took to the pitch amongst chants of "U-S-A, U-S-A...". They were facing a rising star in the sevens circuit and their North American rivals, Canada.
As the match began a sense of wonder came across the stadium as the Eagles showed a supreme confidence and a changed attitude in the way they walked to their positions and held themselves among the loyal rugby fans in Las Vegas.
This new attitude was evident from the get go in this incredibly exhilarating match as right from the kick-off the Eagles pressured the Canadians with an unprecedented motivation to impress. The opening phase displayed this new found squad as Roland Suniula spotted an early gap in the Canadian defense and bolted his way through, drawing defenders perfectly and sending a well-timed pass to try machine Zack Test. The crowd stood and applauded this fast paced try from the Eagles as the conversion was made and the USA took the lead 7 to 0 in the first minute of the game.
From the resulting kick-off Canada seemed to turn on their intensity as they retained possession and worked their way quickly into USA territory. With a ruck set only ten meters outside of the Eagles' try zone the American defense found themselves on the back foot and the Canadians were quick to move the ball wide and use their momentum to outpace the flexed Eagle defense. Canada dotted down in the corner and the conversion was missed. USA 7, Canada 5.
The match continued in its seemingly back and forth pattern from the ensuing kickoff the Eagles once again put together well rounded phases and began to attack gaps in the Canadian's defense at will; drawing, supporting, and offloading like a well-oiled rugby machine. These instances soon allowed Matt Hawkins to find a gap and use his strength to fend off an unknowing Canadian defender. Hawkins sensed his support close and fed the ball to Colin Hawley as the crowd felt another five-pointer coming from the Eagles.
Hawley, always one to entertain the crowd, graced his opponent with a well-executed goose step that made the Canadian lose his footing and fall to the grass of Sam Boyd Stadium grasping at air. Hawley, shrouded in applaud and praise, touched the ball down for the Eagles' second five-pointer of the game and a well worked team try. USA 12, Canada 5.
The Eagles went into the half on top of the Canadians and the crowd was sensing an upset between two up-and-coming teams on the international sevens circuit.
The second half began as the game had, with excitement right from the whistle. Zack Test, known for his aerial skill and superiority, leapt through the air and retrieved his own team's kick-off. At the resulting ruck the USA committed a penalty and Canada was quick to capitalize on the imbalanced American defense. The Canadians burst through the defense and dotted down under the posts to even the score with a completed conversion. USA 12, Canada 12.
As the match developed Hawley was subbed out for Andrew Duratalo to add some needed power to the attack. The Eagles seemed to let up in the second half however, as the Canadians continued to exploit the USA's penalty count and keep them on their back foot. Using momentum to their advantage, and a disorganized USA defensive line, Canada side stepped their way under the posts and completed an easy conversion. USA 12, Canada 19.
As time ran out the Eagles attack became desperate for chances and they created good phases in the last minute of the match, working the ball from side to side and testing the Canadian defense. But it was not to be, as the Eagles could not find a way through. Duratalo powered his way around a Canadian defender but soon ran out of space and sent an errant off load in field which was quickly picked up and kicked into touch by Canada to end the game with Canada over the USA, 19 to 12.
USA Eagles 12
Tries: Test, Hawley
Tries: Ardron, Hirayama, Hearn
Cons: Hirayama (2)
USA vs Fiji
Las Vegas, Nev. -- After an exciting but ultimately upsetting defeat at the hands of Canada earlier in the evening the USA ran out into Sam Boyd lights to face their toughest opponents yet in this stop on the HSBC Sevens World Series. Coming off of an uneasy victory over Argentina earlier in the day, Fiji entered this match against the Eagles trying to redeem their reputation as a dominant force in the sevens circuit.
The crowd had grown by a few hundred since the Eagles defeat by Canada, turning out to see the enthusiastic American squad face a storied Fijian team. The game got under way and the Eagles found themselves in dangerous waters early as the Fijians drove them back behind their 22 meter line from the opening kickoff.
The Fijians regained possession and found themselves charging down the middle against a surprised Eagles defense. Within the first minute of the match the Fijians scored right under the posts. The conversion was easily slotted and the Fijians went ahead of the Eagles 7 to 0.
Throughout the first half Fiji continued to show their pace, testing the Eagles defense out wide. But it was in the mid-field that the Eagles showed ill-discipline as the second try from Fiji came from a splitting run that cut open a gap and allowed another easy conversion attempt. The effort was completed and the Fijians went up to a quick lead of 14 to 0 over the Eagles.
Once the Eagles gained possession of the ball however, they showed very eager and promising play, passing well and running good support lines. The Eagles began to find space around the Fijian breakdown and support towards the spaces began to flood in.
On one such tackle area break, Folau Niua found himself beyond the Fijian defensive line and quickly connected with his support in Zack Test screaming for the ball on the wing. Niua found Test with a lengthy pass to put the wing off to the races against his Fijian opponent. Showcasing his speed and determination to get points on the board and to get his team back in the game, Test sprinted for the corner and touched down for a tremendous try amidst roars from the crowd. Shalom Suniula stepped up to take the conversion, and his superb completion of the extra points got another worthy burst from the Eagles faithful. Fiji still led, however, 14 to 7.
From the resulting restart the Eagles gathered the ball with superb athleticism and quickly found their pattern. Moving into Fijian territory it seemed that they were destined to score but amidst the cheers of the crowd the Eagles lost their discipline and turned over the ball to the counter attacking Fijians. In the ensuing break, Fiji chipped ahead and gathered the ball within the USA's 10 meter line and worked the ball into space. They dotted down another try right before half time. Half time score: Fiji 21, USA 7.
The second half kickoff placed the Eagles within their own zone and they were quick to try and find an exit to relieve pressure. taking too many risks with the ball in hand, the Eagles passed the ball wide within fifteen meters of their own try line and one such lengthy pass was easily intercepted by Fiji. This was taken under the posts to begin the second half scoring. The conversion was easily made and Fiji found themselves ahead of the Eagles 28 to 7.
The beauty of sevens, in regards to its quick chances at redemption, was displayed brilliantly in the resulting restart as the Eagles placed pressure on the kick off and found themselves developing phases within Fijian territory. The Eagles moved the ball inside drawing in the Fijian defense then noticed space was available out wide where Niua quickly spotted an overload and took the space himself, adding five points to the Eagles' score. The conversion was missed but the fans got behind their home team as the Eagles narrowed the gap with Fiji as they led 28 to 12.
Fiji once again put pressure on the Eagles from the kick off, causing them to mishandle the ball. The Fijians regained possession from poor handling and moved the ball wide to find an easy try with less than two minutes left in the match. The conversion was missed and Fiji led the Eagles 33 to 12.
With only a few minutes left in the game the Eagles brought in speedster Peter Tiberio and big gun Garrett Bender to bring in some fresh legs. This was not in vain as Peter Tiberio made a long break against a broken Fijian defense and found himself breaking tackles and ultimately alone under the Fijian posts to notch five points for the last play of the match. The conversion was made and the match ended with Fiji over the Eagles 33 to 19.
Tries: Test, Niua, Tiberio
Cons: Suniula (2)