The USA Men’s Sevens squad completed their 2023 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series season with a 10th place finish in London. Another tough pool and last minute bounce of the ball against Great Britain kept the team out of the quarterfinals and sent them to the ninth place semifinals.
Another educational weekend comes to a close, as this core squad of young hopefuls continue to learn and grow with the veterans by their side. Head Coach Mike Friday and staff have a lot of prospect and intent within this group, positives that will head into a busy off-season with the ups and downs of a full Sevens Series now under the young players belt.
The squad had some moments to celebrate this weekend, with a dominant and controlled win over Spain to kickoff day two, where Ryan Santos scored his first series try. The Dawgs will use the weekend and entire season to study and what they need to work on individually and collectively, as they head into the RAN Olympic qualifier in August, the next opportunity for the group to book their tickets to Paris.
Comments from Head Coach Mike Friday:
“Another school of hard knocks in the pool stages, where if we had won that final game against Great Britain, we would have progressed to the Cup rounds. All these lessons, whilst tough to take for all of us, are part of the process. Unlike most teams on the series who have been together for 4-5 years, or have a rich upbringing in the sport, our boys are learning on the job in the most competitive circuit there has been. At times we had five players all with less than a handful of caps on the pitch. I am confident as they continue to work hard that these boys will look back and realize this is part of the ‘making of them.’
Perhaps the critics should check themselves before they continually and unfairly expect these young men to operate at the same level as the previous group who took 4-5 years to challenge for the World Sevens Series. Perhaps supporting, as opposed to constantly criticizing.
Looking forward, we have 12 weeks until the RAN Qualifiers and once we have recovered from these two weeks of competition we will be back in training and preparation.
We have to fix our basics and the mistakes we are making, this is affecting our attack and defensive effectiveness as a group. This is the cause of our inconsistency and needs to be addressed both individually and collectively. This 12 weeks also provides us with an opportunity to condition ourselves, something we haven’t been able to do since last June.”
The USA began their London Sevens tour with 2023 Series Champions New Zealand. Knowing it would be a tough fight, the squad focused in on trying to keep possession and going through at the rucks. New Zealand was first to strike with points, but the USA had a chance on attack following a line out. The All Blacks kept trying to win the ball at breakdowns, but conceded penalties to keep it in USA hands. The Dawgs’ patience paid off as Steve Tomasin completes the series of recycles with the first USA try.
In the second half, New Zealand was first to strike again as they found their way past USA defense, but Marcus Tupuola responded minutes later by skipping over New Zealand’s wall and racing away for a try. New Zealand was dominant for the majority of the match, but the Dawgs kept their pace up to get away from the All Blacks’ strong defensive wall for Lucas Lacamp to get one more score on the wing to end the game 17-35.
In their next match against South Africa, the opposing team was again first to open up the score board. The Blitzboks dominated the first few minutes with a strong kicking game, chasing after the ball and stealing it away for possession. The Dawgs didn’t give it and took back control for a series of great offloads, finally getting into Kevon Williams’ hands for the first USA try. Playing on past the halftime whistle, the team worked together, with Malacchi Esdale taking the ball into South Africa territory and the team offloading to Lucas Lacamp, scoring a second USA try.
South Africa continued to prove they wouldn’t back down, as they capitalized on USA mistakes early on in the second half to score another try. Kevon Williams responded with USA points on the wing, and with three minutes left and seven points of separation, the Dawgs knew they needed to keep possession. A penalty gave South Africa a kick to touch, but it stayed in, giving Steve Tomasin the chance to grab it and take it back in USA hands. Possession paid off, as Pita Vi scored under the posts, and Tomasin’s conversion levels off the score. More turnovers put it back into USA hands at the final whistle, and the squad decided to take a draw and player their best hand against Great Britain for a chance at the quarterfinals, ending the game 26-26.
The Dawgs needed to win their final pool match against Great Britain to advance. They had a good start, with Lucas Lacamp the first the enter the try zone after Joe Schroeder won their own kickoff. Great Britain was quick to respond with two tries in a row, and it was evident that it would be a game of possession. The Dawgs kept up a patient attack, building up on offense to go deeper into Great Britain territory, where Kevon Williams strolled over the try line on the wing to end the first half.
Throughout the match, Great Britain kept up good defense to get the ball back. The USA began playing frantically and making a few mistakes as the clock ticked down. Marcus Tupuola found the opportunity to steal the ball just inches away from another Great Britain score giving Maka Unufe the space to run and get a try. They needed one more score to win the game, and a USA scrum showed hope for a buildup. With 20 seconds to go, a called forward pass ended the USA’s momentum, putting it back into Great Britain’s hands who kicked it out to end the game, 19-21. With the loss, the USA would go to the ninth place semifinal.
The Dawgs met Spain for the ninth place semifinal, and despite not being in the quarterfinals, they had a chance to reverse a series of losses against the European team. They were on it from the start, with Malacchi Esdale and Lucas Lacamp skipping through tackles to gain ground, sending the ball to the short side to Kevon Williams, who opened up the scoring. The Dawgs kept up good defensive work and won the ball back for Jack Wendling to score on the side. On attack, Spain finally found a chance to skirt away, but Lucas Lacamp won the race to tackle and win the ball back. The rest of the first half saw a lot of turnovers, but there hadn’t been a lot of time spent in USA territory.
The second half started out with similar play, with Spain unable to bust through USA’s defenses. With a scrum going to the Dawgs, Malacchi Esdale was able to accelerate to another USA try, keeping the Dawgs in full control of the game. Spain bobbled their chance at possession again, and the USA took back possession for Ryan Santos to dive over the try line, scoring his first of the series to end the game 24-0.
The win against Spain reinstalled some confidence within the Dawgs as they headed into the ninth place playoff, a rematch against South Africa. The Blitzboks were determined to win this one, as the draw match in pool play kept them out of a chance at quarterfinals. They proved dominant from the start, scoring their first try within a minute of the game beginning. The Dawgs faltered on both sides of the ball, unable to hold South Africa and bay and keep the ball long enough to score.
The second half saw the same problems for the USA, with South Africa taking their scoring opportunities and keeping control of the ball. The USA had the last say, though, as Aaron Cummings scored the only USA points to end the game 5-47.
USA Men’s Sevens Traveling Squad | HSBC London Sevens
|1. Aaron Cummings||Forward||14|
|3. David Still||Forward/Wing||18|
|5. Joe Schroeder||Forward||32|
|6. Kevon Williams (C)||Halfback/Wing||47|
|7. Naima Fuala’au||Halfback||24|
|8. Malacchi Esdale||Wing/Center||18|
|9. Stephen Tomasin||Forward||54|
|10. Faitala Talapusi||Halfback||19|
|12. Lucas Lacamp||Center||13|
|14. Marcus Tupuola||Halfback/Center||25|
|18. Maka Unufe||Center||48|
|25. Pita Vi||Wing/Center||4|
|26. Jack Wendling||Forward||4|
|27. Ryan Santos||Forward||2|
USA Men’s Sevens Traveling Staff
Head Coach | Mike Friday
Performance Analyst | Dave Gardner
Strength & Conditioning | Josh Schnell
Athletic Trainer | Kristen Douhan
Team Manager | Scott Novack
USA Men’s Sevens London Results
v. New Zealand | 17-35 (L)
v. South Africa | 26-26 (D)
v. Great Britain | 19-21 (L)
Ninth Place Semifinal
v. Spain | 24-0
Ninth Place Playoff
v. South Africa | 5-47 (L)