Women’s Eagles Sevens: Brazil 2016 preview

SÃO PAULO, Brazil - The Women's Eagles Sevens are not in the best position in the 2015-16 HSBC World Rugby Women's Sevens Series standings after their first tournament under a new head coach, but they get to right some of the wrongs this weekend at Brazil Women's Sevens.

Less than three months into Jules McCoy's tenure at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., the Eagles traveled to the United Arab Emirates for the opening leg of the then-four-leg circuit. Since Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens, a fifth stop in France has been announced, which leaves a maximum of 30 international sevens matches on the team's fixture list.

Brazil Women's Sevens kicks off Saturday, Feb. 20, with the U.S. lined up in Pool B alongside reigning Series champion New Zealand, Russia, and Spain. The tournament will be broadcast live via an online stream from Arena Barueri on World Rugby's website.

What you missed

Against a side that had not been on the Series during the entirety of the 2014-15 season, the Eagles were picked to ease into Dubai in their initial pool match. Ireland, however, caught the U.S. in the midst of a systemic shift on defense, and found the try zone once in each half and played with an extra player on the field early in the second half to kill any momentum McCoy's team found. A 12th-minute try from debutant Richelle Stephens put the team's only points on the scoreboard.

It got worse for the Eagles against a much-improved Fiji team that looked more like its dominant male counterparts than in seasons past. While they rebounded from a 10-0, first-half deficit and eventually held a 19-17 lead going into the final minutes of the match, the Eagles could not contain the offloading style of the Fijians, and sunk to the bottom of the pool standings heading into the 30-point defeat to rival Canada.

A close match, albeit a loss, to Japan in the Bowl Semifinal saw continuity in a side searching for bright spots at 7he Sevens Stadium, and it was put together in the redemptive, 11th-place Playoff defeat of Ireland.

"It takes a very mature person to say, 'You know, we won, but I'm not happy,'" McCoy said. "It takes a lot of maturity to do that."

Where the Eagles fly

The Eagles had their "work-ons" when they returned to the Olympic Training Center in the new year, and welcomed Canada to southern California for a set of scrimmages to test their readiness to return to the circuit. The teams split scrimmages, with the U.S. sides featuring residents and campers alike benefitting from second-half surges to push members of last year's second place team to the edge.

Jillion Potter played her first international rugby in Dubai following more than a year off from competitive play, and several other debutants made cases for future selection. In Brazil, six of the 12 young women to pull on the U.S. jersey will not have been in the United Arab Emirates, with three set to play in their first Series tournament.

Bui Baravilala is back from injury to provide a boost in a playmaking position, as is Joanne Fa'avesi. The two were instrumental throughout last season, and will help make up for the absences of Lauren Doyle and Richelle Stephens. Kristen Thomas will not be the only speedster on the pitch, either, as Naya Tapper is set to blaze a trail at Arena Barueri in her first action with the national team, and Ryan Carlyle back in the setup for just her second Series appearance.

Flight plan

New Zealand missed its third consecutive Cup Final in Dubai, but has restocked its roster with perennial Dream Team selection and former World Rugby Women's Sevens Player of the Year Kayla McAlister. The Eagles have not fared well against the all-black wearers since the Series began, defeating New Zealand for the first time in 11 matchups last May.

Russia has not been a surprise in its rise to the top of the Series standings, as the team has always been a contender on the circuit. Its Cup Final appearance in Dubai was only its second, however, and comes at a time when the Series is at its most competitive. The season is still early and it would not be a shock to see Russia fall back to its inconsistent self in a tough pool, especially with the Eagles holding a 7-2 record in the matchup.

The Eagles are undefeated against Spain, which finished last season six points from a non-core-team status headed into this year's circuit. The team may be ragged by the time it meets the U.S. in the final match of pool play (and final match of day one in Brazil), but the same could be said for the Eagles.

Screaming Eagles

Come August, all eyes will be on Brazil for the Rio 2016 Olympic Summer Games. This weekend, however, the 12 teams in São Paulo will have hardware of a non-gold variety on their minds at Arena Barueri. The tournament is scheduled to kick off 8 a.m. ET, with the U.S.'s opening match against New Zealand slated for 9:50 a.m. ET. The broadcast will be streamed live on World Rugby's website, and match updates will be provided throughout the day on USA Rugby's Twitter account.

Women's Eagles Sevens | Brazil Women's Sevens

1. Megan Bonny

2. Kelly Griffin (C)

3. Jillion Potter

4. Alev Kelter

5. Bui Baravilala

6. Kristen Thomas

7. Jessica Javelet

8. Ashley Perry

9. Ryan Carlyle

10. Joanne Fa'avesi

11. Rachel Griendling

12. Naya Tapper

Women's Eagles Sevens | Brazil Women's Sevens

v. New Zealand - Saturday, Feb. 20 @ 9:50 a.m. ET

v. Russia - Saturday, Feb. 20 @ 12:12 p.m. ET

v. Spain - Saturday, Feb. 20 @ 3:18 p.m. ET