Falcons, Hawks finish in top four at Halloween Rugby 7s

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - The inaugural Halloween Rugby 7s invitational tournament proved to be a useful warm-up to the 2015-16 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series for Men's Eagles Sevens Head Coach Mike Friday and his player pool. The USA Falcons and USA Hawks reached the Cup Semifinals Sunday, Nov. 1, after one-loss pool stages Saturday, Oct. 31, only to meet in the Plate Final - or third-place match - at Al Lang Stadium.

The Hawks, predominantly made up of Residency athletes at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., were coached by Friday, while Eagles Assistant Coach Chris Brown led the Falcons. Brown coached last year's Falcons team to a tournament victory at Serevi RugbyTown Sevens.

Falcons

The Falcons' Cup hopes were nearly tripped up by Denver 7s in the first match of pool play, as Steve Laporta's side took a quick, 12-5, lead. With the likes of pacey ConRoy Smith and intelligent Tua Laei combined with veterans Andrew Durutalo and Kevin Swiryn, the Falcons scored three unanswered tries to take a 24-12 victory.

Laei represented Rugby Utah at Elite City Sevens in August, the program's first sevens assembly, and went up against the Halloween 7s version in the Falcons' second match, a 33-0 win for a team that began to blossom under the leadership of Will Holder.

"I thought the Falcons got better with every game and the boys learned on their feet," Friday said. "Whilst they made mistakes, the lessons they will get from that will only stand us in good stead in the squad."

Against the Argentinian side in the tournament - which featured seven players that made an appearance on the Series last season - the Falcons fell to a 21-0 half-time hole, but bounced back to make it interesting in the second half. Two tries produced quickly in open play cut Argentina's lead to seven points before time ran out on the U.S. team's comeback bid.

The 2-1 record solidified the Falcons' spot in the Cup Semifinals as the second seed out of the pool.

Hawks

In the other pool, the Hawks dominated Ohio 7s and New York City 7s in 31-0 and 32-0 victories, respectively, heading into the final pool match against Canada's invitational side. Like the Hawks and Argentina, Canada's 12-man squad appeared similar to the team that would represent the nation on the Series, and the play matched the billing.

"It was a typical Canada-versus-USA match: highly charged and competitive," Friday said.

Carlin Isles opened the scoring in favor of the Hawks after a nice switch play in the middle of the pitch afforded the wing enough room near the touch line to break away from one defender before cutting inside to beat another.

Canada enjoyed possession following the restart, and won a lineout within 10 meters of the try line. Following a penalty against the Hawks on the opposite side of the pitch, John Moonlight dove over the line to put the score at 7-5. There was a physical altercation between a few players in the in-goal area, which resulted in a yellow card for Moonlight and a red card for Maka Unufe.

The referee awarded the Canadians a penalty advantage rather than a typical restart, and they scored within seconds using the extra space out wide, though Nathan Hirayama was forced to fight for every inch through a Nate Augspurger tackle.

The Hawks were not able to capitalize on the restart not going 10 meters, and a turnover allowed Canada to extend the lead to 15-7 with an additional try on the stroke of halftime.

To make matters worse for the Hawks, Moonlight scored Canada's fourth try in the opening minutes of the second half with the man-advantage to push the deficit to 22-7. The Hawks scored two more tries before the end of the match, but the damage was done and Canada took the pool with the 27-21 victory.

"[Unufe's red card] ultimately made it very difficult for us to take control of the game and culminated in us being put under pressure in attack and throwing two wild interceptions," Friday said. "I would rather these things happen now as we lead into the season - it gives all the squad a reality check on just how hard it will be to move forward again this season, and live up to the potential we showed last year."

Both U.S. teams finished day one as second seeds, with Argentina and Canada holding undefeated records.

Knockout

Unufe's suspension for the Hawks' Cup Semifinal against Argentina was compounded with a few injuries, which did not help the team's case against the high-flying South Americans. Though it was low-scoring, Argentina moved onto the Cup Final with a performance worthy of the Series in shutting out the Hawks, 15-0.

The Falcons, on the other hand, traded tries with Canada early on in their Cup Semifinal, and led, 12-5, at halftime. With not much time remaining and Canada down, 17-10, and in scoring position, Smith forced his opposite number into the corner, where he set the ball down in-goal. Hirayama's conversion kick from the touch line was heavily assisted by the breeze in southern Florida and just cleared the bar to send the match to overtime.

Canada received the ball first and drew a quick penalty, from which Phil Mack took a tap and ran about 70 meters for the winning try.

While Argentina went on to defeat Canada in the Cup Final, the Eagles coaching staff was able to get a good look at the U.S. teams against each other in the Plate Final.

"It was good to see the boys have a hit out against each other and allowed us an opportunity for them to compete in a proper surrounding, so it was valuable for myself and [Assistant Coach] Brown," Friday said. "I'm just pleased we didn't pick up any further injuries in that game and we can get ourselves into good shape to focus over the next month and build towards Dubai and South Africa."

The Hawks scored first via Perry Baker before the teams traded tries, eventually getting to 12-12 in the eighth minute. For the winning try in the 12th minute, the Hawks put together one of the better team tries of the tournament. Augspurger broke through the Falcons' defensive line from deep inside his own half and played a one-two with Peter Tiberio. Augspurger went into contact after getting the ball back, and Ben Leatigaga used his physical presence and ball-handling skills to create space and offload to Tiberio in front of the posts for the score.

Most of the players that suited up over the weekend will head back to the Olympic Training Center, where a final Men's Eagles Sevens High Performance Camp will be held Sunday, Nov. 15, through Saturday, Nov. 21. Two weeks later, the Eagles will begin the first Olympic-year Series at Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens.

"As I have told the boys, we have another five-week block to evolve and move forward, and these types of reality checks are good experiences if we learn and recognize why they happened," Friday said. "I am expecting a far better physically- and mentally-prepared squad by the time we land in Dubai.

"I also think a few of [the Falcons] will put the Hawks boys under pressure come selection time for Dubai, so it's going to make for a very interesting month and Camp."

  • USA Falcons | Halloween Rugby 7s
  • 1. Colton Cariaga
  • 2. Alex Faison-Donahoe
  • 3. Seth Halliman
  • 4. Tua Laei
  • 5. Will Holder
  • 6. Peter Malcolm
  • 7. Ben Pinkelman
  • 8. ConRoy Smith
  • 9. Joey Sok
  • 10. Kevin Swiryn
  • 11. Andrew Durutalo
  • 12. Alex Elkins
  • USA Falcons | Coaching Staff
  • Chris Brown
  • Brian Finn
  • Jon Hood
  • USA Hawks | Coaching Staff
  • Mike Friday
  • Brian Green
  • Nick Tricarico
  • USA Falcons | Halloween Rugby 7s
  • v. Denver 7s - W 24-12
  • v. Rugby Utah - W 33-0
  • v. Argentina Rugby - L 21-14
  • Cup SF v. Canada Maple Leafs - OTL 22-17
  • Plate Final v. USA Hawks - L 19-12
  • USA Hawks | Halloween Rugby 7s
  • v. Ohio 7s - W 31-0
  • v. New York City 7s - W 32-0
  • v. Canada Maple Leafs - L 27-21
  • Cup SF v. Argentina Rugby - L 15-0
  • Plate Final v. USA Falcons - W 19-12