Penalties hurt Eagles in Bowl Semifinals loss

HONG KONG, China -- Despite another early lead, the Men’s Sevens Eagles were knocked out of the Cathay Pacific HSBC Hong Kong Sevens after a 20-12 loss to Hong Kong Sunday. Mike Palefau and Zach Test each scored a try in the Bowl Semifinals match for the Eagles, who have next week’s Tokyo Sevens for another chance to add IRB Sevens World Series points.

Following their Bowl Quarterfinals win against Scotland, the Eagles used another opening try to set the tone against Hong Kong. In the second minute, Test made a great tackle inside the Hong Kong 22 near the sideline to force a turnover. Palefau recovered the loose ball and touched down in the corner of the try zone. Shalom Suniula, who made two sideline conversions earlier in the weekend, missed the conversion for a 5-0 scoreline.

Less than 30 seconds later, Hong Kong’s Rowan Varty found space down the left sideline and was destined to score before the speedy Nick Edwards chased him down. Edwards was only able to hamper his progress, as Varty slipped and offloaded to Tom McQueen, who switched directions to run around Folau Niua for the tying score. It stayed 5-5 after Jamie Hood’s missed conversion.

Hong Kong found the try zone again within another minute through McQueen, who was given the ball on the wing inside the 22 for an easy try. Hood’s conversion missed again to keep the Eagles in the game with a 10-5 score.

Not wanting to be down at halftime, the Eagles kicked into high gear after the restart and managed to take the lead. Inside his own 22, Test faked two Hong Kong defenders to break through the defense and was off to the races. His 65th career try, which leads the Eagles Sevens, was converted by Suniula for a 12-10 halftime lead.

The Eagles had a 100% tackle completion percentage and did not concede a penalty in the first half, but that statistic did not hold in the second half. The Eagles committed four penalties in the final frame and relinquished the lead within two minutes.

A penalty awarded to Hong Kong allowed for a quick restart and another pass out wide to McQueen. McQueen’s run was not met with resistance as the Eagles were caught outnumbered after the penalty. McQueen’s third try of the match and fifth of the weekend was not converted and the Eagles found themselves down 15-12.

With plenty of time, Head Coach Alex Magleby added Luke Hume, Colin Hawley and Carlin Isles into the fray, but another Hong Kong try put the Eagles out of reach. About a minute after McQueen’s hat-trick try, Kwok Ka Chun stretched the lead again to 20-12. Hood missed his fourth conversion of the match.

Fans at Hong Kong Stadium wanting to see the fastest man in rugby got on their feet as Isles was passed the ball with two minutes left, but was closed down by three Hong Kong defenders. Hume found the ball in his hands and made his way through a couple of defenders before being tackled, but was penalized for not releasing in the tackle. Hong Kong used their last possession to find touch and signal the end of the Eagles’ 1-4 weekend.

Magleby was critical of his team's final performance of the tournament and conceded work needs to be done in the short week ahead of Tokyo.

"We were outplayed, out-hustled, out-executed and out-subbed," he said.

While Hong Kong advances to the Bowl Final, the Eagles earned precious Series points by making it to the Semifinal. Matt Hawkins is tied atop the tournament’s top try-scorer list and returning veteran Palefau proved his usefulness to the Eagles in the largest round of the Series.

The pools for next weekend’s Tokyo Sevens will be announced shortly, as will the Eagles’ roster for the seventh round of the IRB Sevens World Series. Follow USA Rugby on Twitter @USARugby, and on Facebook for more information.

Men’s Eagles Sevens | vs. Hong Kong
Tries: Palefau, Test
Conversions: Suniula