Wellington opens with Eagles, France draw

WELLINGTON, New Zealand - The Men's Eagles Sevens kept France scoreless in the second half of their pool-play encounter at HSBC Wellington Sevens Friday in a 21-21 draw at Westpac Stadium.

Head Coach Mike Friday's charges faced a 14-point deficit heading into the final frame, and gave themselves a chance to reach day two's Cup Quarterfinals by earning two points in the Pool C standings. The Eagles will continue pool play against Samoa Friday, Jan. 27, at 10:42 p.m. ET. The third leg of the 2016-17 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series can be viewed live on World Rugby's website.

Perry Baker, one of the circuit's top performers at the first two stops, nearly opened the scoring in the first minute of the match when he was given the ball near midfield. His run along the touch line came dangerously close to a France throw-in, but Julien Candelon's tackle within five meters of the try line forced a knock out of the Eagle. France could do nothing from the ensuing put-in other than kick away, and Martin Iosefo stepped past two defenders in front of the posts to give the U.S. a 7-0 lead.

Despite their successes on the restarts thus far this season, the Eagles fumbled away the lead in the following minutes as they struggled to keep ball in hand. Iosefo's knock just inside the French half turned around on the Eagles for Stephen Parez to slip through a gap and score in the fifth minute. A mishandled restart by Danny Barrett in the next minute was taken in-goal by Candelon, and a successive turnover on the next possession led to Parez kicking a loose ball and chasing it under the posts for a 21-7 halftime score.

France looked to capitalize on two U.S. errors in the opening minute of the second half by setting up a lineout inside the Eagles' 22, but possession was lost forward. The Eagles kept playing and quickly sent it towards the touch line to the waiting hands of Baker. The wing added to his try tally in an early try-of-the-tournament candidate, weaving through several defenders inside his own half before sprinting away for the score.

Captain Madison Hughes quickly converted Baker's try to bring the deficit to seven points at 21-14, and nearly shrunk the gap to zero in the 12th minute when he accelerated through the defense and reached for the try line with a defender dragging him by the jersey. After a review from the match official, it was determined Hughes did not reach the try line.

Gassed from the chase in the latter stages of the game, France kicked possession away for the Eagles to regroup inside the attacking half. Iosefo strongly sent the ball away from contact for Baker to take over the try line, where he found Andrew Durutalo in a better position to place the ball. Hughes tied the match with his third successful conversion.

Both teams had a final opportunity to break the deadlock, with Folau Niua coming up big with a tackle at the U.S. 22 before the Eagles lost possession forward in their own in-goal area, drawing the final whistle.

New Zealand battered Samoa to the tune of 33-7 in the other Pool C matchup, going top of the table after the first round. The Eagles will be looking for a win against Samoa in their next game to set up qualification for the Cup round. The match is scheduled to kick off at 10:42 p.m. ET and can be viewed live on World Rugby's website.

Men's Eagles Sevens | v. France
1. Carlin Isles
2. Matai Leuta
3. Danny Barrett
5. Don Pati
6. Andrew Durutalo
7. Folau Niua
8. Connor Wallace-Sims
9. Stephen Tomasin
10. Madison Hughes (C)
11. Perry Baker
12. Martin Iosefo
13. Pago Haini

France | v. USA
1. Jonathan Laugel
2. Manoel Dall Igna
3. Jean Baptiste Mazoue
4. Terry Bouhraoua
5. Stephen Parez
6. Jean Pascal Barraque
7. Bastien Berenguel
8. Pierre Gilles Lakafia
9. Pierre Louis Barassi
10. Julien Candelon
11. Sacha Valleau
12. Jeremy Aicardi
13. Vincent Inigo

Men's Eagles Sevens | 21
Tries: Iosefo, Baker, Durutalo
Conversions: Hughes (3)

France | 21
Tries: Parez (2), Candelon
Conversions: Bouhraoua

Men's Eagles Sevens | HSBC Wellington Sevens
v. France - D 21-21
v. Samoa - Friday, Jan. 27 @ 10:42 p.m. ET
v. New Zealand - Saturday, Jan. 28 @ 3:02 a.m. ET