Men's Eagles Sevens: Singapore 2017 preview

KALLANG, Singapore - The National Stadium in Singapore is set to host its second stop on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series in as many years April 15-16, having been re-acclimated to the circuit in 2016 after a seven-year hiatus.

The eighth leg of the 2016-17 Series may not yield a season champion, but top-ranked South Africa - which has not missed a Cup Final since the opener in Dubai - could further widen the gap between No. 1 and No. 2, Fiji. Head Coach Mike Friday's Men's Eagles Sevens kept their standing in fifth following a fourth-place result at Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens last weekend, though Bronze medalist Australia dwindled the difference between No. 5 and No. 6 to three points.

The Eagles are the top seed in Pool D heading into Saturday's pool play. Their HSBC Singapore Sevens campaign is scheduled to kick off at 1:36 a.m. ET April 15, with the live stream of the entire tournament available to viewers in the United States on World Rugby's Sevens Series website.

WHAT YOU MISSED

Less than three weeks after the U.S. placed fourth in Vancouver - leading the Series in tries scored between the two North American legs - the squad was on its way to Hong Kong for one of the most festive occasions in world rugby. In tow were 10 members of that team in Canada, with the additions of Mike Te'o and Anthony Welmers.

The Eagles were missing Danny Barrett in their Friday night match against Russia due to a suspension handed down mid-tournament in Vancouver. Dream Team selection Perry Baker - who recorded his 100th try in the previous month's Bronze Final - scored the match-winner from his own try line at the end of the first half. Russia kept the U.S. to minimal possession in the second half but could only break through once for a 14-7 final.

The defense was the story of the Eagles' tournament throughout the weekend as the team also defended a 19-0 halftime lead against Scotland to qualify for the Cup Quarterfinals at the first opportunity, 19-14. Friday switched the roster around for the second Saturday matchup, giving Te'o his first start. The XVs national team's leading try-scorer in its Americas Rugby Championship victory scored two tries as the U.S. battered a plucky Argentina side that had previously kept results between the two within three points.

Day Three began with a Quarterfinal against England, which saw the No. 3-ranked team on the circuit open the scoring. Baker, captain Madison Hughes, and Stephen Tomasin each scored their own individual tries to give the Eagles a halftime lead and Dream Team selection Ben Pinkelman helped put the finishing touches on the team's fourth win of the weekend, 27-7.

WHERE THE EAGLES FLY

As had been the case in the Eagles' two prior Semifinal appearances, South Africa stood between them and a top-two finish on the Series. Not a converted try separated the two in Las Vegas or Vancouver, and the Hong Kong rematch was deadlocked after 14 minutes. A mistake in possession allowed the Blitzboks to keep their Cup Final appearance streak alive. The U.S. could not make the most of yet another Bronze Final, succumbing to Australia for the first time in three meetings.

Two consecutive losses - on paper - may have ended the Eagles' weekend on a down note, but Hong Kong was evidence the team's upward trajectory was more of a trend than a fluke. Only eventual Cup winner Fiji (55) and fourth-ranked New Zealand (80) conceded fewer points than the U.S. (88) through six games, and even then only England (70) and Russia (60) allowed fewer in five games.

Tomasin's chase tackle late in the team's match against Scotland represented the team's work ethic in Hong Kong. The San Diego State University graduate's try from an advantage just before halftime against England, Hughes' lung-busting, 80-meter score on the final play of the Quarterfinal, and the team's overall tenacity to take the Series leader past the distance were similar instances highlighting the U.S.'s determined play.

In addition to the first match, Barrett was absent in the Bronze Final for precautionary reasons. Despite the loss of a player - a forward at that - as impactful as Barrett is, Friday was spoiled for choice between Durutalo, Pinkelman, Te'o, and Tomasin in the starting sevens. Pinkelman earned his Dream Team selection alongside Baker with a skill-set combination of power, technique, and rugby I.Q. well beyond his years. The four combined for six tries.

FLIGHT PLAN

Wales will take solace in serving as Fiji's only blemish in Hong Kong. Luke Morgan's hat trick was almost enough for the pool play victory until Fiji's 14th-minute try brought the teams level. Wales was only able to beat Japan in the pool before finishing the weekend on the opposite end of the result in the 13th-Place Playoff. Giving up almost as many points as it scored, Wales had its worst showing of the season. The Eagles beat Wales in the Sydney Fifth-Place Semifinal - the teams' only meeting in 2016-17.

Scotland's six-game winning streak over the Eagles came to a halt last weekend - where it debuted three new players - though its streak of third-or-worst pool finishes did not. After three Cup qualifications to open the season, Scotland has dropped to eighth place in the standings. The Scots are still in prime position to qualify for Rugby World Cup Sevens 2018 in San Francisco, however, and could yet use the remaining legs to introduce more young players to the international scene.

Their meeting in the Bronze Final in Las Vegas was arguably more exciting than the Cup Final, as the Eagles battled New Zealand to the very end of the knockout game before stealing the victory on the final play. Even without the Series' most successful coach, New Zealand continues to churn out successful rugby teams and players, and its performances in Hong Kong will necessitate meticulous review for Friday and Co. to succeed in Singapore's pool play. Twenty-four-year-old back Joe Ravouvou debuted with six tries in his first tournament, second only to Baker. The team is also traveling with the recovered Scott Dickson.

SCREAMING EAGLES

Supporters of the Sevens Series in the U.S. will know the challenges of following the Asian legs of the tournament due to the time difference between them and Hong Kong/Singapore. It is a straight 12-hour flip from the National Stadium to America's east coast, meaning games kicking off in the early afternoon hours in Singapore correspond to New York's late night/early morning.

The tournament begins at 11 p.m. ET Friday - Eagles against Wales at 1:36 a.m. ET Saturday - and can be streamed live all weekend via World Rugby's Sevens Series stream. To access the stream, visit the match blog page for the current game and allow the video player to load. Live updates will also be posted to Twitter by USA Rugby's official account (@USARugby).

Men's Eagles Sevens | HSBC Singapore Sevens
1. Anthony Welmers
2. Ben Pinkelman
3. Danny Barrett
4. Matai Leuta
5. Mike Te'o
6. Andrew Durutalo
7. Folau Niua
8. Maka Unufe
9. Stephen Tomasin
10. Madison Hughes (C)
11. Perry Baker
12. Martin Iosefo
13. Malon Al-Jiboori

Men's Eagles Sevens | HSBC Singapore Sevens
v. Wales - Saturday, April 15 @ 1:36 a.m. ET
v. Scotland - Saturday, April 15 @ 4:34 a.m. ET
v. New Zealand - Saturday, April 15 @ 8:50 a.m. ET