Vegas podium graced by Eagles with New Zealand defeat

LAS VEGAS - The Men's Eagles Sevens competed in their third consecutive HSBC USA Sevens Bronze Medal Match Sunday and beat New Zealand, 19-15, to reach the podium for the first time at their home tournament.

Andrew Durutalo scored the match-winning try on the last play of the game as the favorable crowd at Sam Boyd Stadium serenaded the Kiwi defense with chants of "U-S-A." Head Coach Mike Friday's squad gains 17 points in the 2016-17 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series standings with the third-place finish, drawing them level with Australia in fifth place at the midpoint of the season. The Eagles will not rest long as HSBC Canada Sevens is set to kick off Saturday, March 11, in Vancouver.

"There's nothing like this," Stephen Tomasin said after the match. "The crowd's been amazing all weekend long. We can really feel it on the field when they get going; the energy flows through all of us. It's hard to put into words how special a moment this is for us. Not many people get to put on this jersey and do it in front of a home crowd."

Having been mere minutes away from a Cup Final appearance in front of a home crowd, the Eagles ran onto the field in the Bronze Medal Match with the goal of podium or bust. Though the winds blowing inside of the stadium had increased since the earlier stages of the afternoon, there were no ill effects on the opening restart. New Zealand could not keep possession for long, however, throwing an early pass into touch before conceding a penalty near the try line.

Folau Niua took the quick tap not 10 meters from the in-goal area and Maka Unufe, savior for the Eagles in their Cup Quarterfinal matchup with Argentina the night before, kept himself from being tackled under the posts to dot down for the match's opening try.

Tomasin slotted the conversion from in front - not a foregone conclusion with the breeze - for the 7-0 lead, and the Eagles looked to extend it quickly when Dylan Collier was shown yellow in the third minute for a high tackle during a clear-out of Niua. The experienced Kiwis killed off the advantage with a brief attack and U.S. errors that brought about stoppages for set pieces, and DJ Forbes ticked the scoreboard with a try on the final play of the half.

Beaudein Waaka had been unable to convert the touch-line dot-down, keeping his side from leveling the score, but Tim Mikkelson used a turn of pace in the middle of the field in the ninth minute to give New Zealand a 10-5 lead.

Danny Barrett did well to grab Martin Iosefo's offload to create a break at midfield in the 11th minute, and Niua ensured his teammate would not give away possession in the tackle with a clear-out in the breakdown. Durutalo brought the Eagles close to scoring in the corner before Ben Pinkelman gave Barrett the ball for a try under the posts.

Tomasin converted again for the U.S. to regain its lead at 14-10, but young Sione Molia scored a 60-meter individual try - passing by most of the Americans at the gain line - for a 15-14 New Zealand lead. Waaka's conversion fell flat in the face of the wind at Sam Boyd stadium.

With less than a minute remaining, the Eagles took the ball from the restart all the way down the field without conceding possession. A break by Barrett brought the Eagles to the 22, where a penalty again allowed them to spread the offense. After Pinkelman helped to maintain possession in an initial tackle five meters from the line, he feigned ducking into a defender before popping the ball out to Durutalo for the winning try, 19-15.


View match stats on Trenarian.com


The Eagles improve their Series standing to fifth with the third-place performance heading into the sixth round of the circuit. On top of the team's best points haul on the season, there are no serious injuries to report for Friday's squad. An updated 12-man squad for the sixth round will be confirmed later in the week.

"Obviously it was a great start to the season by us but we've been building throughout," Tomasin said. "This is a special group - obviously different than the Olympic team but we've all been training together for a few years. You go through those tough times in training and in games, and it builds your morale.

"Off the field we're loose and fun, but when we step on the field we don't even have to look at each other to know we're going to get everything out of each other. That's the reason we have a good weekend like this."

Men's Eagles Sevens | v. New Zealand
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

New Zealand | v. USA
1. Tone Ng Shiu
2. Tim Mikkelson
3. Trael Joass
4. DJ Forbes
5. Dylan Collier
6. Beaudein Waaka
7. Iopu Iopu-Aso
8. Vilimoni Koroi
9. Sherwin Stowers
10. Andrew Knewstubb
11. Isaac Te Tamaki
12. Sione Molia
13. Ambrose Curtis

Men's Eagles Sevens | 19
Tries: Unufe, Barrett, Durutalo
Conversions: Tomasin (2)

New Zealand | 15
Tries: Forbes, Mikkelson, Molia
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 - W 19-15