Spain no match for Team USA in Rio 2016 Rugby Sevens Final

RIO DE JANEIRO - Team USA beat Spain, 24-12, in the ninth-place Final of the Rio 2016 Olympic Summer Games Rugby Sevens competition Thursday at Deodoro Stadium.

Carlin Isles extended his lead atop the try-scoring table with two five-pointers in the U.S.'s final match, which also saw the debut of Martin Iosefo in place for Perry Baker. Mike Friday's squad finishes the inaugural Olympic Rugby Sevens competition with three wins and two losses.

"The boys approached the game and dealt with what needed to be dealt with really well," Friday said post-match. "They were professional in what they did. I thought the boys attacked well, looked after the ball, and got what they deserved in what was a tough game to come out and have to play.

"They are men with character. Results don't create the man; character does that. They've shown immense personality, character, and grit to stay in an arm wrestle. They're pioneers. They're leading the way for the USA."

The Americans were made to defend Spain in the opening minutes of the match, and a penalty against the U.S. allowed the Olympic repechage winner to kick for a lineout within 15 meters of the try line. Isles stemmed the attack on the opposite touch line, but a follow-up run from Pablo Fontes resulted in five points.

The match official showed Spain's Joan Losada a yellow card on the ensuing restart for a contest in the air with Garrett Bender. The Spaniard was not in any position to win the ball, and a penalty a few phases later led to Danny Barrett scoring his fourth try in five games in Brazil.

Spain set up another lineout before the end of the half in a good attacking position, but a pass into touch a minute later gave Folau Niua a chance to throw the ball into the set piece. Ben Pinkelman won it and Iosefo ran at his defender for the extra space for Isles along the touch line. The World's Fastest Rugby Player beat one defender at the gain line while accelerating and two additional defenders down the field with footwork to bring the halftime score to 12-5.

A miss-kick by captain Madison Hughes, attempting to find touch, in the 10th minute gifted Spain an attack, and it resulted in five points. Javier Carrion and Matias Tudela broke the gain line before captain Angel Lopez was allowed to find his feet from a Zack Test tackle for the match-tying, 12-12, try.

Spain went from being on its front foot to being on its heels immediately, as the U.S. stormed down the field from the restart and kept the ball through phases. Substitutes Andrew Durutalo and Chris Wyles did well to keep the ball in the breakdown areas, and Maka Unufe had plenty of space within 10 meters of the try line to restore the team's lead at 19-12.

Durutalo set up Isles' second try of the match and final U.S. score of the tournament with a nifty fend around midfield before offloading to the speedster. A final Spanish attempt at an ankle tap failed as Isles neared the try line, bringing the score to 24-12.

Credit: Fotojump

Team USA's rugby athletes have given their all over the course of the past few years to bring the U.S. flag closer to the top of the World Rugby Sevens Series standings. Relegation-threatened just three seasons ago, the national team's rise on the circuit can be attributed to Friday as much as it can be the work ethic shown by the dozens of athletes that have pulled on the USA jersey in that time span.

"The long and short of it: people need to put things in perspective when they look back at this journey," Friday said. "People forget where we were 18 months ago. We were 13th in the world. Yes, we're not doing what we want to be doing today, but we're three years ahead of schedule by a long way.

"The majority of the squad are under 25. It's just whether or not they can continue to grow and improve their game. Couple that with the influx of new athletes and new people trying to compete on this team, we'll be in an even stronger position as we move through the next four years. There will be opportunities for new players to come in, but they're going to have big boots to fill because we're now an established team on the World Series and we don't want to step back."

Nate Ebner did not see the field in the ninth-place Final, but was an instrumental cog throughout pool play in Rio. His time away from the New England Patriots organization during the National Football League offseason was fruitful not only for him - being able to compete on rugby's biggest stage - but also for the sport of rugby, having Americans witness a professional athlete prioritize the game.

"I hope the American people feel the same way," Ebner said. "I hope they had a great experience watching and I hope they watch the Finals, and that Rugby Sevens is something they take a much closer look at moving forward."

"Hopefully the Olympics has opened the eyes of the American public to where rugby can fit in and complement the existing team 'super-sports,' and coexist," Friday said. "One can help the other, and that's the key thing we need to take from this. What you've seen is the exhilaration of the game of sevens and the excitement it brings, and how the USA can continue to be contenders. We've not achieved what we wanted to achieve; we felt we should have been in the medals.

"It's not what's happened - it's what happens next. I talk a lot about that with them. We have to kick on from this, they have to learn from it, and they have to become better players. They have to help the new players that come in to become better players. They have to show them the right way, what's required - the character, the commitment, the grit - to be successful in this game."

Team USA Rugby Sevens | v. Spain
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
12. Nate Ebner
13. Martin Iosefo

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 - W 24-12
Ninth-place Final v. Spain - W 24-12