Eagles grab London Sevens bronze with defeat of Series Champion Fiji

LONDON - The Men's Eagles Sevens may not have captured any hardware at HSBC London Sevens Sunday, but they defeated Fiji, 26-19, in the third-place match to end the 2015-16 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series on a high note.

With three players available on the bench, the Eagles ran out to an early lead and held on through a furious Fijian comeback effort to claim what would be a bronze medal at the Rio 2016 Olympic Summer Games. Like last year, Mike Friday's squad finishes the Series in sixth just two points behind Argentina in fifth. The national team coaching staff and greater player pool will now turn their attentions to Brazil with the first Olympics to feature Rugby Sevens in the Games Program set to begin the first week of August.

Fiji had played a close Cup Semifinal against eventual runner-up South Africa, but uncharacteristic mistakes to open the third-place match gave the Eagles an opportunity to blow the game open early. Nate Augspurger's opening restart bounced off of a lifted Fijian's hands and into those of Martin Iosefo for one of the fastest tries in circuit history, giving the Eagles a 7-0, U.S. lead.

The second restart also eluded Fiji, who had to deal with the hungry Danny Barrett along the touch line. Barrett was taken into touch with a high tackle for an Eagles tap between the attacking 10 and 22. The Eagles kept the ball on one side of the field, and Ben Pinkelman single-handedly beat two defenders from 20 meters with strength and one fend to double the lead at 14-0 after just two minutes.

The Eagles won a scrum from the ensuing restart but Fiji took possession of the ball for the first time when a pass was more than Iosefo could handle. Fiji worked the ball around until Kitione Taliga found the one gap in the U.S. defense. Perry Baker made chase but the Fijian had too much of a head start for a 14-7 score line.

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A lineout near midfield from the restart gave the Eagles another attack, and a strong run from one 22 to the other by Iosefo put the U.S. in scoring territory. That territory is where Baker has called 'home' at Twickenham Stadium, and the Eagles found the wing along the touch line for a two-try, 19-7 lead.

Typical Fijian sevens rugby ended the half, though the Eagles did well to force Fiji into a corner, albeit within a few meters of the try zone. Pinkelman was one of several Eagles to wrap up their opposite numbers, but the free-flowing offloads eventually led to Taliga doubling his tally for a 19-14 half-time score.

The Eagles lost their second-half-opening attack to a penalty and defended with their lives once again. Playing sweeper, Augspurger made an important tackle in the back field, but Baker could only hang on to Jasa Veremalua and flail his arms at the ball as the try-scorer went over the line.

Having scored two unanswered tries and drawn level at 19-19, Fiji made an unforced error as the restart did not travel 10 meters. Augspurger took the tap and changed direction for Hughes, who ran through a gap and chipped the ball over the Fijian full back. The captain beat the chasing defenders to the try line, where the ball was waiting for him on a platter. Hughes converted his own try to give the Eagles a 26-19 lead, which they saw out over the course of nearly three minutes with smart play with ball in hand and a swarming defense.

The Eagles were one step from defending their London Sevens crown from last season in Sunday's Cup Semifinal, but Scotland relegated the Eagles to the third-place match and went on to defeat South Africa in the 20-minute Final for the nation's first Series tournament win.

Men's Eagles Sevens | v. Fiji
1. Ben Leatigaga
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

Fiji | v. USA
1. Apisai Domolailai
2. Jasa Veremalua
3. Waisea Nayacalevu
4. Isake Katonibau
5. Viliame Mata
6. Amenoni Nasilasila
7. Osea Kolinisau
8. Masivesi Dakuwaqa
9. Jerry Tuwai
10. Kitione Taliga
11. Samisoni Viriviri
12. Jarryd Hayne

Men's Eagles Sevens | 26
Tries: Iosefo, Pinkelman, Baker, Hughes
Conversions: Hughes (3)

Fiji | 19
Tries: Taliga (2), Veremalua
Conversions: Taliga, Kolinisau

Men's Eagles Sevens | HSBC London Sevens
v. Samoa - W 12-5
v. South Africa - L 14-10
v. Canada - D 12-12
Cup QF v. New Zealand - W 42-14
Cup SF v. Scotland - L 24-17
Third-place v. Fiji - W 26-19