Draw with border rival leaves Vegas Cup hopes in air

LAS VEGAS - The Men's Eagles Sevens were unable to recreate the magic they had at Sam Boyd Stadium last year in a 26-26 draw with Canada Friday at HSBC USA Sevens.

The U.S. shut out Canada in one of its best performances of the year on Valentine's Day of 2015, a Cup Quarterfinal matchup in that year's home tournament. Friday night, the Eagles lost Maka Unufe to a first-half injury and a second-half, 26-7, lead to put their Cup hopes in jeopardy in Las Vegas. The final match of pool play for Mike Friday's Eagles will kick off Saturday, March 5, at 1:35 p.m. PT.

Unufe started the first match of the day - a defeat of Wales - on the bench, but used his starting role against Canada to an immediate benefit to the team. He hit Folau Niua's restart away from a lifted Canadian for Zack Test to recover, and the team recycled possession for Test to score in the corner within 30 seconds of the opening whistle.

The Eagles were forced to make an early substitution in the third minute, when Unufe suffered an injury as he was cleared out of a ruck at the defensive 22. Canada had lost the ball forward before time was called off for the medical attention, and, when it restarted, Perry Baker chip-kicked the ball over the defensive line. He chased it from his own five-meter line to midfield, where he collected it, and ran to the posts for a 12-0 U.S. lead.

Danny Barrett tried to stop Harry Jones from reaching the try line, and did, but could not keep the Canadian from offloading in the final minute of the half. Barrett tracked the pass to Admir Cejvanovic on the wing and attempted to chase, but Jones prevented him from doing so. The American did, however, keep the Canadian from dotting down near the posts, but the try was converted, anyway.

Martin Iosefo pounced on the ensuing restart and beat the defense to the try line to repair the Eagles' 12-point advantage, sending the teams into the break with the U.S. up, 19-7.

Canada lost the second-half restart forward, but got the ball back in the scrum. Baker kept an opponent from scoring in the corner with an effective tackle that knocked the ball loose in the try zone, and brought the crowd to its feet seconds later. The ball came out of the five-meter scrum to Baker near the posts, and the wing ran laterally past a defender to the touch line before turning his sights on the try zone. The more-than-100-meter try extended the Eagles' lead to 26-7.

Test was made to chase Conor Trainor in the 11th minute, and was able to bring the Canadian to the ground behind the U.S. 10. Trainor was not held, however, allowing him find to his feet, and Jones again kept an American - captain Madison Hughes - from saving a try from being scored.

John Moonlight set up Nathan Hirayama for another try from the ensuing restart to bring the score to 26-21, and Phil Mack was able to hold onto the ball through a Carlin Isles tackle a minute later to draw level at 26-26.

The Eagles conceded a scrum on the ensuing restart and defended well past the 14th minute to see out the game, which was blown dead as Canada lost the ball into touch.

Unufe is unlikely to return this weekend, giving Friday's Eagles one less player from which to call in the remaining four matches.

"Maka Unufe is an incredible talent," Hughes said post-match, "but Martin Iosefo's a talented player, as well. While Maka's a loss, the next guy's up.

"In the second half, [Canada] did a good job of holding onto the ball, and some of the habits we had in the first game and a half that had been hurting us really crept in. We weren't making our tackles, allowing them to slide off. It was really disappointing, because you can't let teams back in [the game] like that when you're leading by that much."

The draw puts the Eagles on five points in the Pool D standings, with South Africa leading on six and Canada right behind with three. A win against South Africa Saturday at 1:35 p.m. PT would ensure a Cup Quarterfinal place, though a loss could see them drop to the Bowl depending on the Canada-Wales result.

"I think we often do perform at our best when our backs are against the wall, when we've let ourselves down and need to come back with a good performance," Hughes said. "We've seen that several times this year so I think it's important to do that tomorrow.

"Nothing except a win tomorrow is acceptable, so we need to come out and know we need to improve a lot on the things that let us down today."

Men's Eagles Sevens | v. Canada

1. Carlin Isles

2. Ben Pinkelman

3. Danny Barrett

4. Garrett Bender

5. Zack Test

6. Will Holder

7. Folau Niua

8. Maka Unufe

9. Nate Augspurger

10. Madison Hughes (C)

11. Perry Baker

12. Martin Iosefo

Canada | v. USA

1. Sean White

2. Admir Cejvanovic

3. Mike Fuailefau

4. John Moonlight

5. Conor Trainor

6. Sean Duke

7. Philip Mack

8. Justin Douglas

9. Nathan Hirayama

10. Pat Kay

11. Harry Jones

12. Adam Zaruba

Men's Eagles Sevens | 26

Tries: Test, Baker (2), Iosefo

Conversions: Hughes (3)

Canada | 26

Tries: Cejvanovic, Trainor, Hirayama, Mack

Conversions: Hirayama (3)

Men's Eagles Sevens | HSBC USA Sevens

v. Wales - W 19-12

v. Canada - D 26-26

v. South Africa - Saturday, March 5 @ 2:35 p.m. PT