Men’s Eagles Sevens: Paris 2016 preview

PARIS - The Men's Eagles Sevens are that much closer to the Rio 2016 Olympic Summer Games, and will be even closer following HSBC Paris Sevens May 13-15.

The HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series returns to France for the first time since the 2005-06 season, though the U.S. was not represented at that particular tournament. In fact, in three tournaments in France, the Eagles participated in just one: the debut in 1999-2000.


Coming off of a strong showing in both of the North American legs of the Series - with squad turnover between HSBC USA Sevens and HSBC Canada Sevens - Mike Friday's Eagles flew to Asia for back-to-back events in Hong Kong and Singapore.

Carlin Isles had missed the Canadian leg in an attempt to qualify for Rio as an individual, and was selected to the Cathay Pacific / HSBC Hong Kong Sevens squad only to suffer an injury in training in the build-up week. There to replace him in the 12-man squad was Nate Ebner, who helped Samurai International Rugby Football Club reach the Final of the GFI Hong Kong 10s tournament in the days leading up to the seventh round of the 2015-16 season.

Ebner did not end up making his debut on the pitch for the Eagles in Hong Kong, where they went undefeated in pool play - highlighted by defeats of now-No. 6 Argentina and No. 4 Australia - before falling to England in the Plate Final.

Pat Blair replaced young Ben Pinkelman in the Singapore squad with the Colorado State University student-athlete's attendance required at the end of the semester in Fort Collins, Colo. Despite the addition of fresh legs and the impetus brought by the team's New England Patriot, the Eagles had a streak of nine consecutive Cup Quarterfinal appearances come to an end.

All three of the Eagles' pool mates - Canada, France, and New Zealand - left the National Stadium pitch with wins from their American encounters, while defeats of Russia and Portugal in the Bowl playoffs led to a close loss to Scotland in the Final. The worst finish of the season for the U.S. resulted in seven points towards the Series standings, good enough to keep hold of fifth place.


One of the bright spots for the Eagles in Singapore was the play of Ebner, who started in three of the team's six matches and scored his first two career tries. Zack Test led the way with six tries, and Maka Unufe was close to matching Test's output per game with four five-point plays.

Perry Baker scored three tries over the weekend, bringing his season total to 39, the second-most of any player on the circuit. Without partner in crime Isles to haunt defenses when the wing is tired, Baker's workload has increased throughout the past three legs. He has played in 44 matches this season, more than anyone in an Eagles jersey beside Folau Niua, who has played in 45.

The near-try-per-game output is only part of Baker's contributions to the team on the pitch, as an affinity for one-on-one tackles combined with the speed to chase down any ball-carrier leaves little room for the Floridian on the bench.

Test's six tries in Singapore extend his season total to 16, making him just one of four Eagles - along with Baker, Madison Hughes, and Isles - to have scored at least 10 tries. In all, 19 Eagles have combined for 152 tries, the fifth-most on the Series. Hughes leads the circuit with 88 conversions, and trails Canada's Nathan Hirayama as the leading points-scorer by 17 points with 271 from 43 matches.


Pinkelman is back with the team for Paris, as is Thretton Palamo, who last appeared with the squad in Canada. Palamo will get his first taste of Argentina in the U.S.'s opening match of Pool D at Stade Jean Bouin, with Pinkelman in the starting sevens for the Eagles in their first matchup in Hong Kong. Argentina Head Coach Santiago Gómez Cora, the Series' all-time leading scorer, has made a few changes to the squad that was beaten by the Americans, calling in Rugby World Cup veterans and Super Rugby debutants Santiago Cordero and Matias Moroni in a final attempt to see as many players as possible prior to Olympic selections.

France had underperformed from the second leg of the season in Africa to the last leg in Singapore, but appeared to understand the ship must be righted before attending a home leg. The crowds in Paris will no doubt cheer loudest when the home team takes on the U.S. in the second match of Pool D, knowing the French have been a thorn in the Eagles' side in recent seasons. Virimi Vakatawa's absence was one reason why France's form dipped in the middle of the season, and his return was one reason why the team was able to qualify for the Singapore Cup round over the U.S.

To end pool play, the Eagles will face bitter rival Canada. A disappointing draw at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas put a damper on the U.S.'s home tournament, but the Eagles took the only other meeting between the two teams last time out in Singapore. Though the Canadians will welcome Admir Cejvanovic and Adam Zaruba back into the team, sights cannot yet be set on the Olympics, as the North Americans failed to qualify for Rio 2016 at the last two opportunities. The Paris and London legs of the Series, therefore, are more for preparations for a repechage event, where the likes of Samoa stand in the way.


The ninth round of the Series kicks off Friday, May 13, with the match between the Eagles and Argentina set for 2:28 p.m. ET. World Rugby's Sevens Series website will host the stream of the tournament to viewers in the United States, while USA Rugby's Twitter handle will provide live updates throughout the Eagles' campaign.

Men's Eagles Sevens | HSBC Paris Sevens

1. Nate Ebner

2. Ben Pinkelman

3. Danny Barrett

4. Garrett Bender

5. Zack Test

6. Thretton Palamo

7. Folau Niua

8. Maka Unufe

9. Nate Augspurger

10. Madison Hughes (C)

11. Perry Baker

12. Martin Iosefo

Men's Eagles Sevens | HSBC Paris Sevens

v. Argentina - Friday, May 13 @ 2:28 p.m. ET

v. France - Saturday, May 14 @ 6:20 a.m. ET

v. Canada - Saturday, May 14 @ 9:09 a.m. ET