Men’s Eagles Sevens: Cape Town 2015 Preview

CAPE TOWN, South Africa - The Men's Eagles Sevens will hold down third in the 2015-16 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series standings this weekend as they take on Australia, Portugal, and Wales in pool play at HSBC Cape Town Sevens.

The 15 core teams on the circuit will earn a seven-week "break" after the weekend before returning to action in New Zealand at HSBC Wellington Sevens the final weekend of January 2016. A fourth consecutive Cup Semifinal appearance spanning the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons would put the Eagles in good stead following the first of five doubleheader rounds.

What you missed

After beating New Zealand for the first time in sevens history in the final match of day one at Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens - the U.S.'s 100th Series tournament - Mike Friday's squad did the double in the Third-Place Match to earn 17 Series points.

The Cup Quarterfinal defeat of South Africa went under the radar as the Eagles moved on to push England to a near-20-minute contest in the Semifinal before conceding the match-winning try, but it proved the resiliency of the team in the early morning in the United Arab Emirates.

"We realize how small the margins are and how, if we got the little things right, we probably would've been in the Final and had a decent crack at Fiji," Friday said. "Because that didn't happen we went out and ended up finishing third. In times gone by we would've been happy with that, but we're not happy.

Break down the U.S.'s Dubai with Mike Friday

"That's a good trait of where we've come as a team, where we're evolving to, and where our standards are; we want to be competing in Finals. Whilst we feel we're gaining the respect of the world as a 'Tier Two' nation, breaking in and upsetting the party with the 'Tier Ones,' we've got to do that consistently every time, all the time."

Where the Eagles fly

Thretton Palamo and Mike Te'o were called to the squad as cover as it left for South Africa with Nate Augspurger returning to the States due to family commitments. While Palamo suited up for London Welsh in its Greene King IPA Championship defeat to Cornish Pirates Dec. 6, his last appearance with the sevens team came in its first Cup victory at Marriott London Sevens in 2015. More recently, he started in three of the 15s Eagles' four matches at Rugby World Cup 2015 England.

Te'o only recently returned to the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., after a six-week immersion with Taranaki Rugby in New Zealand, and pushed for selection in the last Men's Eagles Sevens High Performance Camp. In the build-up week in Cape Town, Te'o has provided an extra body in training and has acted as the impetus to the rest of the group to keep hold of their respective jerseys. Palamo will wear No. 9 through the weekend before returning to England.

In 2014, the Eagles bounced back from a disappointing Dubai to win the Plate at Cell C Nelson Mandela Bay Sevens, beating eventual Series Champion Fiji in the Plate Final. South Africa's Series stop was moved from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town in the offseason, bringing a new feel to the Series along with the introduction of legs in Paris, Singapore, and Vancouver.

Flight plan

Friday emptied the bench in the Eagles' overwhelming defeat of New Zealand in their final match in Dubai, and received production from all 12 players in six matches. Kevin Swiryn made a triumphant return to the U.S. sevens side after several years of retirement from international rugby and scored a try, while Will Holder scored two in the Third-Place Match after missing out on selection to each of the nine Series legs in 2014-15.

Last year in South Africa, the Eagles beat Wales, 38-12, in pool play on the way to the Plate. Another 40-12 victory at Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens meant the Eagles swept the matchup, though still hold a 7-20 record against Wales all-time. The Welsh stumbled in Dubai in a pool with Cup Finalist England and Plate Finalist Australia, and bowed out of the Bowl competition in the Semifinal.

The Eagles opened the season with seven tries in a defeat of Portugal in Dubai, though the two conceded tries in the 45-14 win nearly cost them a place in the Cup Quarterfinals. It was the U.S.'s heaviest defeat of Portugal in 24 meetings, and the 25th is sure to offer some resistance for Friday's charges as their opponent will want to make up for last weekend's losses to both of North America's core teams on the circuit.

Australia could have been the Eagles' Cup Semifinal opponent had the southern hemisphere side won its pool. Finishing behind England was tough on the Aussies, who met Fiji in the Quarterfinal, but they finished off the tournament strong in a defeat of Samoa and extra-time loss to South Africa. The Eagles only earned their fifth victory against Australia in London this past May, but it was a comprehensive, 45-22, win in the Cup Final. With a new season comes a clean slate, however, and Australia will want to grab a few more Series points this time around heading into the first break of the year.

"You can easily be knocked off in this game - it's a brutal game," Friday said. "It can be so hard at times if you don't apply yourself every time, all the time. We need to ensure we prepare properly: we get ourselves where we need to be, take nothing for granted, no complacency. We've got our tin hats on and we're ready to represent the U.S.A. with everything that we've got.

"Then we need to be cool, calm, and collected and go out and execute accurately and efficiently, which we know we can do, and put Wales under pressure with ball in hand, but also put them under pressure defensively. We'll then worry about game two once game one's done."

Watch and cheer

World Rugby's stream of HSBC Cape Town Sevens will be available to viewers in the United States, while Universal HD will broadcast two hours of the tournament Monday, Dec. 14, beginning at 5 p.m. ET. Live match updates will be "tweeted" by USA Rugby's Twitter handle, with match recaps posted to and shared on the Official USA Rugby Facebook page.

Men's Eagles Sevens | HSBC Cape Town Sevens

1. Carlin Isles

2. Matai Leuta

3. Brett Thompson

4. Garrett Bender

5. Zack Test

6. Kevin Swiryn

7. Folau Niua

8. Maka Unufe

9. Thretton Palamo

10. Madison Hughes (C)

11. Perry Baker

12. Will Holder

Men's Eagles Sevens | HSBC Cape Town Sevens

v. Wales - Saturday, Dec. 12 - 3:15 a.m. ET

v. Portugal - Saturday, Dec. 12 - 6:36 a.m. ET

v. Australia - Saturday, Dec. 12 - 10:19 a.m. ET