U.S. moves to fifth in Series standings with fourth-place Vegas campaign

LAS VEGAS - The Men's Eagles Sevens reached their second third-place match of the 2015-16 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series Sunday, but finished fourth at HSBC USA Sevens with a 21-10 defeat to South Africa.

The home crowd at Sam Boyd Stadium stayed for the U.S.'s second match against the Blitzboks in as many days, and screamed for its team through blistering winds for the full 14 minutes. The Eagles gain 15 points from their home tournament for the second consecutive year having finished fourth to South Africa in the same matchup in February 2015.

Several penalties against the U.S. during South Africa's first possession aided the Blitzboks' efforts to gain the attacking half of the pitch, and even a turnover in the Eagles' defensive half could not keep Tim Agaba from opening the scoring in the third minute.

Garrett Bender fed off of South Africa's inability to bring him down with one defender in the fifth minute, continuing to go forward until two others finally brought him to the ground. Danny Barrett hit the gain line with pace and power after a penalty apiece to both teams, and Zack Test followed his teammate to go over the 22. Folau Niua lost the ball forward, but Madison Hughes stripped the ball from his opposing scrum half in the set piece for the Eagles to set Perry Baker away on the wing.

Hughes' conversion attempt from the touch line was unsuccessful to keep South Africa in the lead at 7-5, and Seabelo Senatla scored just ahead of the break from a tap at midfield, with Kyle Brown providing the impetus with a 30-meter run.

The Eagles got ahead of themselves down, 14-5, on the second-half restart, giving up possession for Branco du Preez to step his way to the try zone. Test corralled the ensuing restart and the U.S. drew a penalty in the breakdown, and had help from South Africa's ill discipline in gaining midfield. Ben Pinkelman and Barrett each had go-forward runs down opposite touch lines, with the veteran's run reaching the 22. Carlin Isles brought the Eagles within five meters of the try line, and successive penalties - and a yellow card to Justin Geduld - led to Isles dotting down in the corner for a 21-10 score line.

The teams traded lineouts in the final minute of play before the Blitzboks kicked to touch, happy with the 11-point victory.

With 15 points from Las Vegas, the U.S. moves to fifth in the Series standings level with Argentina, an improvement from the seventh-place spot it occupied heading into the fifth round. Baker scored five tries over the three-day weekend to lead the team in scoring and earn a tournament Dream Team nomination, while captain Hughes kicked 10 conversions on the weekend.

Sometimes you don't get what you deserve in the results and I thought we deserved a little bit more than we got," Head Coach Mike Friday said after the team's final match. "But what I wouldn't trade is the attitude of the guys, their ability to stay in the fight, their ability to fight for one another with the injuries we had, and the warrior mentality.

"Let's not forget how resilient they were to stay in the battle in all of these games, and how they represented the American people how they wanted to be represented. I'm immensely proud of their attitude and their behaviors to work hard and represent the shirt the way they did."

The coaching staff will most likely err on the side of caution in regards to injuries picked up during the weekend, with Will Holder and Maka Unufe both unavailable for multiple matches in USA Sevens. The 12 players with the USA Falcons developmental side that won the Las Vegas Invitational tournament over the weekend made cases for future selections, and Friday will have to make the tough decisions in the next few days as HSBC Canada Sevens looms in less than a week.

"I asked the Falcons to put in selfless performances and put the team first, not look to make the 'Hail Mary' play themselves," Friday said. "I was very happy with a number of them in terms of the way they went about their work. When we get back to the training base we'll make decisions on what we're going to do for Vancouver next week and I fully anticipate there will be a few Falcons traveling to Denver.

"The reality is we need a strong group of 18 to 20, not 12. We need competition; we need depth if we want to be contenders and move forward into the Olympics."

The Eagles have been drawn into a pool with England, France, and New Zealand in Canada, with the sixth leg of the Series set to kick off Saturday, March 12.

Men's Eagles Sevens | v. South Africa

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

South Africa | v. USA

1. Chris Dry

2. Dylan Sage

3. Tim Agaba

4. Kwagga Smith

5. Bryan Habana

6. Kyle Brown

7. Branco du Preez

8. Rosko Specman

9. Justin Geduld

10. Cecil Afrika

11. Seabelo Senatla

12. Ruhan Nel

Men's Eagles Sevens | 10

Tries: Baker, Isles

Conversions: N/A

South Africa | 21

Tries: Agaba, Senatla, du Preez

Conversions: du Preez

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 - L 21-10