Team USA falls a point short of Rio 2016 medal rounds

RIO DE JANEIRO - Team USA valiantly challenged world No. 1 Fiji in the final match of pool play in the Rugby Sevens competition at the Rio 2016 Olympic Summer Games Wednesday, but will ultimately miss out on the medal rounds following a 24-19 defeat at Deodoro Stadium.

With New Zealand losing a second match in Pool C and Australia winning a second in Pool B, the U.S. needed a win, draw, or loss by four points or fewer to advance to Wednesday's Quarterfinals. The five-point margin of defeat sees Mike Friday's squad miss out on the top eight, and Team USA will now fight for a ninth-place ranking. The placing Semifinal against Brazil is scheduled to kick off at 3:30 p.m. ET on USA Network.

"We allowed Fiji to physically get over on us," captain Madison Hughes said. "We know that when we play to our potential we can beat anyone. We didn't do that this week. That's cost us. It really hurts because it's what we really wanted."

"Like all things sevens it was tight," the head coach said following the match. "It was a tough game. We gave everything out there but didn't get the rub of the green. That's life and that's the game of sevens. What you saw there was a full-blooded effort from the blokes, and they were out there fighting for everything to the last second.

"It was kind of symptomatic of what the Olympics is all about. We've missed out on the Quarterfinals by a point-difference of one. Small margins, but that's the brutality of the Olympics and that's the difference between winning and losing, and success and failure. Unfortunately we've come up just short."

Holder of a 1-4 record in five matchups on the 2015-16 World Rugby Sevens Series, Fiji came into the match on the back of two solid victories over host Brazil and a strong Argentina team that advances from Pool A as the fourth overall seed. The Americans took hold of the match in the early goings, however, getting in the Fijian faces to stem the back-to-back Series champion's offload-heavy style of play.

Strong defensive play by the U.S. in its half of the field in the opening minutes kept Fiji from doing damage on the scoreboard, and Perry Baker utilized his exceptional pace and footwork to bring the team out of danger and across midfield. Fiji would win the ball back in the breakdown following a penalty and lineout to Team USA, but lost it again to a knock in space.

Danny Barrett opened the scoring in the fifth minute with a brilliant individual run inside Fiji's half, fending a tackler from the wing and beating two more towards the middle of the field to dot down near the posts. Captain Madison Hughes converted the try for a 7-0 lead.

A Fijian counter attack in the sixth minute caught several U.S. defenders out of the play in Fiji's half while three were left to defend five attackers. Fiji captain Osea Kolinisau leveled the match at 7-7 with the try and conversion.

Not moving forward in the defensive end in the final minute of the half, Folau Niua kicked a ball high for Ben Pinkelman to chase. The Colorado State University student-athlete did just that and beat Kolinisau to the ball in the air, and the Fijian made the ill-advised decision to tackle the American before he returned to the ground, warranting a yellow card.

The sin-binning began in the final minute of the half, and Friday's side opted to put points on the board before ending the frame. Instead, Fiji won the ball in the breakdown at the U.S. 22 and quickly took a tap seconds later to send Vatemo Ravouvou over the line for a 12-7 halftime score.

The U.S. was not satisfied letting Fiji off the hook with a man in the bin, and an intercept by Pinkelman began an American attack finished off with a run by Baker. Hughes converted from in front to regain the lead at 14-12, but Viliame Mata restored Fiji's advantage at 19-14 with a try in the 10th minute.

Successive penalties against substitutes Zack Test and Andrew Durutalo, respectively, pushed the defense backwards in its own half, and former Series Player of the Year nominee Semi Kunatani ran a diagonal line to the corner for a 24-14 Fiji lead. Chris Wyles won the ensuing restart and fed Nate Ebner along the touch line for Team USA's third try. Hughes' restart just missed, however, keeping the deficit at five points, 24-19, and Fiji kicked the ball into touch to end the half a minute later to bring the game to an end.

"This is huge for the sport," Ebner said post-match, referring to the exposure rugby has received in the United States during the two three-day Rugby Sevens competitions. "We got here and tried to give this everything that we have. Hopefully the American people see how great of a sport this really is. It's going to be up to America and the people in the United States, how they respond to what they've seen."

Team USA finishes pool play in Pool A in third place, two standings points behind second-place Argentina but level on standings points with New Zealand. The squad of 12 will be looking to earn two more wins in the placing round to end the first Olympic Rugby Sevens competition.

"The reality is, right now, they're broken," Friday said. "This game is unforgiving. We've got a couple of hours and then we put the shirt on again. When you put the shirt on you should wear it with pride, and that's what we've been talking about. Representing your country is always an honor. These boys realize that and they understand that. We just have to give them their space and let them deal with the disappointment.

"We're all disappointed. We're all absolutely gutted and heartbroken, but we'll circle the wagons and come out and put out a performance in the next game that will typify and illustrate what this team, this country is all about."

The U.S. will kick off its knockout-round campaign at 3 p.m. ET against Brazil, which was shut out by the Americans in the second round of pool play Tuesday. The match will be broadcast live from Deodoro Stadium on USA Network and online via NBCOlympics.com.

Team USA Rugby Sevens | v. Fiji
1. Carlin Isles
2. Ben Pinkelman
3. Danny Barrett
4. Garrett Bender
5. Zack Test
6. Andrew Durutalo
7. Folau Niua
8. Maka Unufe
9. Chris Wyles
10. Madison Hughes
11. Perry Baker
12. Nate Ebner

Team USA Rugby Sevens Squad | Rio 2016 Olympic Summer Games
v. Argentina - L 17-14
v. Brazil - W 26-0
v. Fiji - L 24-19
Placing Semifinal v. Brazil - Wednesday, Aug. 10 @ 3 p.m. ET