Men’s Eagles Sevens: Dubai 2015 Preview

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - The Men's Eagles Sevens begin their 2015-16 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series at Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens Friday, Dec. 4, nearly six months since they qualified for the Rio 2016 Olympic Summer Games.

The U.S. is coming off of a first-ever Series tournament victory, a 6-0 performance at Marriott London Sevens, and a sixth-place finish on the 2014-15 circuit. Following a summer in which several Eagles joined the 15s side in the lead-up to and at Rugby World Cup 2015 and others played for domestic national championships, Mike Friday's squad will step onto 7he Sevens Stadium pitch with the goal of winning the next match.

What you missed

Friday's hire as head coach, along with the additions of Chris Brown and Phil Greening as assistant coaches, in the summer of 2014 did not bear immediate fruits as the Eagles took just 13 points from the first two legs of the nine-leg season. However, the U.S. made six Cup Quarterfinals to improve on a 13th-place finish to the 2013-14 season by trailing fifth-place England by 12 standings points.

A month after hoisting the Cup at Twickenham Stadium, the Eagles strung five wins together at the 2015 NACRA Sevens Championships - including a Cup Final defeat of Canada - to qualify the U.S. for Rio 2016, the first Olympic Games to include Rugby Sevens.

While Residents Danny Barrett, Folau Niua, Zack Test, and Brett Thompson predominantly played 15s prior to returning to the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., others played competitive Olympic-style rugby across the country.

The U.S. Army World-Class Athlete Program's Will Holder, as well as Ben Leatigaga and Mattie Tago, represented the All-Army team at Serevi RugbyTown Sevens and Elite City Sevens, and a number of pool players and Olympic hopefuls suited up for club teams at the 2015 USA Rugby Club 7s National Championship.

Where the Eagles fly

Having a few key players away from the OTC for an extended period of time was not an excuse for the other athletes to take a break, and Brown and Friday made sure of that with a strict plan for the "offseason." Regular High Performance Camps and scouting opportunities at events such as the College 7s National Championships pressured all at the OTC to train as if no roster spot was occupied.

The inaugural Halloween Rugby 7s invitational tournament was one of the last-chance saloons of the summer for 24 pool players selected to the USA Hawks and USA Falcons developmental sides. The eight-team tournament in St. Petersburg, Fla., included veteran-heavy teams from Argentina and Canada, which finished the tournament as champion and runner-up, respectively.

Flight plan

The team's former captain and holder of 12 caps, Kevin Swiryn is back in the team to provide an extra motivator to the residency athletes as well as a reinvigorated, knowledgeable rugby brain. With 35 career tries to his name on the international stage, Swiryn will propel the Eagles to reach even more glorious heights than they did a season ago.

The Series begins with Portugal in Dubai, a team the U.S. had beaten more often than not before taking four wins from four matchups during the 2014-15 season. The 14th-ranked team never made it past a Bowl Semifinal, and will be looking to right some wrongs without a place in the Olympics secured.

France regressed in 2014-15, though not by much, earning seven fewer points than the previous season. Two Cup appearances will have been a disappointment for a nation already qualified for Rio 2016, and Les Blues will be a team on a mission to jump up in the standings ahead of the podium opportunity.

New Zealand's string of Series Championships ended at four last season as Fiji won tournaments early and often to dethrone the Kiwis in May. The addition of 15s superstars Liam Messam and Sonny Bill Williams to the greater training squad will be a boost to New Zealand and, simultaneously, a warning to the other teams on the circuit headed to the Olympics. The Eagles have never beaten the Kiwis on the Series, but they had never won a Cup Final until recently, either.

Watch and Cheer

Viewers in the U.S. can watch a portion of the Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens on Universal HD Monday evening (check local listings), while USA Rugby's Twitter handle will provide updates live during the matches at 7he Sevens Stadium. Follow USA Rugby on Twitter and 'like' the official Facebook page for additional updates regarding broadcast coverage.

Men's Eagles Sevens | Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby 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. Nate Augspurger

10. Madison Hughes

11. Perry Baker

12. Will Holder

Men's Eagles Sevens | Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens

v. Portugal - Friday, Dec. 4 - 1:52 a.m. ET

v. France - Friday, Dec. 4 - 5:36 a.m. ET

v. New Zealand - Friday, Dec. 4 - 10:58 a.m. ET