Eagles blown into Bronze clash in Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS - The Men's Eagles Sevens gave the South Africa Blitzboks all they could handle in Sunday's HSBC USA Sevens Cup Semifinal, but dropped to the Bronze Medal Match with a 20-17 loss.

Head Coach Mike Friday's squad ran out to a 12-0 lead in the first half before a few lead changes found the Eagles trailing in the final minute of the game. The U.S. has finished fourth at its home tournament on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series in the past two seasons - both Bronze Medal Match losses to South Africa - and will face a new opponent in its finale in New Zealand at 7:30 p.m. ET. The match will be broadcast live online on NBC Sports' digital platforms to American viewers with valid cable or satellite subscriptions.

"We know we can win every game and we had that one in our grasp," Ben Pinkelman said post-game. "It was there in the last seconds. We let it slip away. Those are the kind of things we have to change come 2020. These are the kind of games we have to win."

The blustery conditions at Sam Boyd Stadium Sunday afternoon have caused teams to make minor adjustments in their game plans for the fifth leg of the 10-round Series, but Folau Niua's Semifinal-opening restart played into the wind to the Eagles' advantage. After crossing the 10 high in the air, the ball was blown back into the hands of captain Madison Hughes. Niua ran straight to knock over a Blitzbok before Andrew Durutalo supported to send Stephen Tomasin over the line.

The 5-0 lead not a minute into the match was nearly doubled a minute later after the Eagles again benefitted from the wind as South Africa allowed the restart to bounce. Perry Baker tried to split the defenders along the wing beyond the attacking 22 and drew a penalty, with a successive penalty against Chris Dry warranting a yellow card from match official Damon Murphy. Durutalo was held up in-goal from the ensuing tap, but the U.S. quickly recycled from the five-meter scrum for Niua to dummy his way under the posts for a 12-0 advantage.

South Africa had been kept without the ball for the opening minutes, and showcased why it is currently topping the Series standings by scoring on its first possession. Dylan Sage used an overlap to dot down in the corner for a 12-5 score, and the Eagles gave away multiple penalties in the next drive for Ruhan Nel to dive over the line at the halftime whistle.

https://twitter.com/WorldRugby7s/status/838516715885477889

The Eagles needed a response with their lead dwindled to 12-10 at the break, but with the switch of directions it was South Africa's turn to use the wind to its advantage. The second-half restart resembled the Eagles' first, crossing the 10 in the air before landing in Blitzbok hands. Werner Kok held off Martin Iosefo on the chase to score, 15-12.

Not unlike the second restart of the game for the Eagles, South Africa's second kick of the second frame bounced backwards for another attack. A loose ball turned possession over to the Eagles, however, and a swift counter attack with Maka Unufe slicing across the defense preceded Durutalo dotting down in the corner.

Pinkelman created a useful turnover with a tackle behind his own 22 in the 11th minute as South Africa looked to overturn another Eagle lead, 17-15, but Hughes lost the ball to a penalty in the breakdown. Sage promptly added the final try of the game.

The Eagles had hoped to unleash Baker on a team missing its leading try-scorer and fastest threat, Seabelo Senatla, but a kick deep into the attacking half found touch before the wing could get there. After South Africa wasted time in the final minute, Danny Barrett stole the restart only for the Blitzboks to win a turnover and kick the ball into touch for the 20-17 final.

"That's the Sevens Series; you're not going to be able to win every game and no one does. When it comes down to the Bronze Medal Match is the game you have to win if you want to medal. That's really what's it's all about. We'll reset and will be ready for that game."


View match stats on Trenarian.com


As much as the Eagles are disappointed to miss out on yet another Cup Final at home, their progress and determination through the weekend will serve them well in the Third Place Match against New Zealand and through the remainder of the Series.

The Bronze Medal Match will kick off at 7:30 p.m. ET at Sam Boyd Stadium. The game will be broadcast live in the United States on NBC Sports' digital platforms to those with valid login credentials.

Men's Eagles Sevens | v. South Africa
1. Pat Blair
2. Ben Pinkelman
3. Danny Barrett
4. Matai Leuta
5. Walt Elder
6. Andrew Durutalo
7. Folau Niua
8. Maka Unufe
9. Stephen Tomasin
10. Madison Hughes (C)
11. Perry Baker
12. Martin Iosefo

South Africa | v. USA
1. Chris Dry
2. Philip Snyman
3. Dylan Sage
4. Zain Davids
5. Werner Kok
6. Siviwe Soyizwapi
7. Branco du Preez
8. Stephan Dippenaar
9. Justin Geduld
10. Cecil Afrika
11. Rosko Specman
12. Ruhan Nel
13. Stedman Gans

Men's Eagles Sevens | 17
Tries: Tomasin, Niua, Durutalo
Conversions: Hughes

South Africa | 20
Tries: Sage (2), Nel, Kok
Conversions: N/A

Men's Eagles Sevens | HSBC USA Sevens
v. Samoa - W 26-5
v. Chile - W 31-0
v. England - W 24-17
Cup QF v. Argentina - W 21-19
Cup SF v. South Africa - L 20-17
Bronze Medal Match v. New Zealand - Sunday, March 5 @ 7:30 p.m. ET