Rematch with Blitzboks to determine Eagles’ Vegas finish

LAS VEGAS - The Men's Eagles Sevens' top-four credentials were solidified Sunday in a 21-14 defeat to current HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series leader Fiji in the HSBC USA Sevens Cup Semifinals.

Perry Baker and Danny Barrett scored tries for a depleted U.S. side as both teams battled heavy winds and, eventually, rain at Sam Boyd Stadium. Will Holder and Maka Unufe had each succumbed to injuries earlier in the weekend to give Head Coach Mike Friday three reserves on the bench. The Eagles will play South Africa in the Third-Place Match Sunday at 3:18 p.m. PT, a rematch of the weekend's pool play matchup.

Though the wind was blowing towards Fiji's half of the pitch, Folau Niua's opening restart did not travel 10 meters. Fiji was able to take a tap and bring the ball over the try line through Jasa Veremalua, but struggled to play the typical style it has brought to the Series in the first two minutes of play.

The Eagles responded to the early, 7-0, deficit with nearly five minutes of continuous possession, turning over the ball just once in working into the attacking half. Forwards Barrett and Garrett Bender used their size and strength to counter the big-bodied Fijians, and Barrett found his way under the posts in the sixth minute with a 30-meter run. The University of California, Berkeley, graduate stepped around one defender and beat another to the try line, and captain Madison Hughes converted from in front for a 7-7 score.

The ensuing kickoff eluded Zack Test as a lift propelled a Fijian into the air, but the Eagles defended well to take an attacker into touch with time nearly expired. The lineout was overthrown, however, and Vetemo Ravouvou exploited the space across the pitch for the go-ahead score.

Friday stressed the Eagles needed to believe in themselves at the halftime break and the team did just that throughout the second half, but unforced errors killed most of the attacking momentum in the final seven minutes.

"Fiji's a really good team and they're going to demonstrate that every time they step on the pitch," Ben Pinkelman said following the Cup Semifinal loss. "But we hurt ourselves at some points when we could have done things better. That's what Friday told us to be disappointed in and that's what we are disappointed in: the opportunities we left out there.

"Fiji's a world-class team, and they'll always capitalize on those mistakes."

Fiji sent the second-half restart behind the 22 and into touch for a U.S. lineout, and a knock to the Eagles led to a Fijian scrum in attacking territory. Martin Iosefo and Niua won a penalty in the breakdown and began moving the play across the pitch, but a cynical knock-down of a pass by Fiji drew the match official's whistle. Following the knock, the Fijian player sent the ball beyond the end line, earning himself a yellow card.

A dropped pass at midfield in the 10th minute led to Pio Tuwai extending Fiji's lead, though the visitors had to work for the try with the Eagles chasing four Fijian offloaders. Up by two converted tries, Fiji again tried to kick the restart into touch, but it went beyond the end line for a midfield tap.

Several knock-ons ended successive Eagles advances, but the team was able to win the ball back in keeping Fiji from the try zone as time ran out on the clock. Another yellow card was shown to Fiji in the final minute of play, and Baker used his speed and step to score a 40-meter try before time expired. Hughes successfully kicked the conversion for a 21-14 score, but Fiji ended the match on the ensuing restart.

"We were disappointed in those missed opportunities, but proud of our effort," Pinkelman said. "We put everything on the line to win that game."

The Eagles were shut out by South Africa in pool play Saturday morning, and will face the Blitzboks for a second time in the Third-Place match. Last year at Sam Boyd Stadium, the U.S. and South Africa also met each other twice - once in pool play and again in the Third-Place Match.

"The last thing we said coming out of that [post-match] meeting was that it's a bronze medal match," Pinkelman said. "If you look at it with the Olympics, if it comes down to [a medal or no medal], you have to be ready for it and you have to take it with 100 percent effort."

Kickoff for the U.S.'s final match on home soil before heading to the Rio 2016 Olympic Summer Games is scheduled for 3:28 p.m. PT, with the live broadcast available on NBC Sports Network.

Men's Eagles Sevens | v. Fiji

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

Fiji | v. USA

1. Nemani Nagusa

2. Jasa Veremalua

3. Masivesi Dakuwaqa

4. Isake Katonibau

5. Pio Tuwai

6. Amenoni Nasilasila

7. Osea Kolinisau

8. Josua Vici

9. Jerry Tuwai

10. Sevuloni Mocenacagi

11. Savenaca Rawaca

12. Vatemo Ravouvou

Men's Eagles Sevens | 14

Tries: Barrett, Baker

Conversions: Hughes (2)

Fiji | 21

Tries: Veremalua, Ravouvou, P. Tuwai

Conversions: Ravouvou (2), Kolinisau

Discipline: Ravouvou, Dakuwaca

Men's Eagles Sevens | HSBC USA Sevens

v. Wales - W 19-12

v. Canada - D 26-26

v. South Africa - L 29-0

Cup QF v. Kenya - W 26-14

Cup SF v. Fiji - L 21-14

Third-Place Match v. South Africa - Sunday, March 6 @ 3:28 p.m. PT