Hard lessons in Toulouse for the USA Men’s Sevens

Mike Lee - KLC Photos
Mike Lee - KLC Photos

The USA Men’s Sevens struggled to find their footing at HSBC France Sevens, where they missed out on quarterfinals and were sent to the playoff stages, but dropped their two matches. The squad has a week to regroup as they head to their final stop on the 2023 World Rugby Sevens Series in London. 

A challenging series of pool matches kept the USA out of quarterfinals, and the team quickly fell behind in the playoffs to fight for some points. The tough weekend taught the Dawgs some hard lessons that they’ll hope to use to close out 2023 on a high note in London next weekend. 

Comments from Head Coach Mike Friday: 

“It was Jekyll and Hyde this weekend. We played with purpose, direction, and connectivity but made some silly momentum mistakes (mostly individual) which means we didn’t take our opportunities to win the games in what was a deadly pool. That being said, I was pleased with the collective adjustments that we had trained and talked about and could see real growth potential. 

However, I can only apologize for the last two games against Spain and Kenya, where we were just not good enough on either side of the ball. We have to look at why this continues to happen. We need to work harder as a group at mentally resetting when things do not go our way and physically apply the basics whilst avoiding going individual to solve matters and instead stay on task as a collective to move forward. These are harsh, brutal public lessons for all of us to have to absorb, which for young men’s confidence can play a part too and cause a spiral, up or down.

We will close ranks this coming week and ignore any unwanted external distractions and opinions as we move to London and focus on building on what we did in the Toulouse pool games and continue to work on staying connected in any dark times that we have to experience on pitch.

It will be a different type of tournament in London with it being a 12-team format, an even more competitive event, which provides us as a group another opportunity to get back out there in the firing line and compete.”

Tournament Recap

In their first pool match against Fiji, the USA began with a look of determination. They would control the ball early, with Lucas Lacamp scoring the first points, striking off a scrum set piece. The Dawgs continued to dominate possession throughout the first half, doing well in breakdowns to win the ball back and finding space to enter Fiji territory. An attempted kick and chase by Fiji put the ball back into USA hands, where David Still found space to run and pass to Kevon Williams, who sailed under the posts for another USA try. With seconds left in the first half, Fiji kept an eye on the ball and picked it off a pass for their first score of the match. 

Fiji isn’t a team that will shy away from a second half showdown, and they showed their strength with early possession in the second half. Building up against USA defense, they found space and stealing opportunities to score back to back tries. The team upped their game defensively and forced errors on the Dawgs to score a third try, but it was the USA with the final say, as Malacchi Esdale ran down the side and through the middle with one second left, leaving Steven Tomasin’s third conversion to draw the game 21-21. 

Looking for a crucial win against hosts France, the Dawgs went into their second pool match with urgency. France was quicker on defense at the start, stealing the ball at the breakdown for the opening try. Looking for an instant response, the USA worked through several phases, but a loose ball went to touch for a France line out. The first half saw turnovers by both teams with minutes going by with no score. France ultimately put the defensive pressure on and then get away from USA’s wall to score a second try. 

Determined to stay in the game, the Dawgs kept up energy despite the late match and turned around the results in the second half. Their hard work on defense paid off, giving them a fighting chance with ball in hand. Right off the bench, PIta Vi sprinted 75 meters on fresh legs to put the USA on the board. Lucas Lacamp felt the momentum and kept it up with his own sprint and carry on the wing to tie up the game. With a minute left in France possession, it would be a tough fight to earn the ball back in front of France’s home crowd. The hosts ultimately found space on the wing and scored the final try to take a 14-19 win. 

The USA and South Africa both needed a crucial win in their final Pool C match. South Africa is a physical opponent, so the Dawgs needed to match the intensity. South Africa was first to strike in the first half, but Faitala Talapusi sprinted to keep the scorer on the edge to keep the points at five. Malacchi Esdale responded immediately by finding space and running from within USA territory, setting Steve Tomasin up for a textbook conversion to put the Dawgs in the lead. A yellow card to South Africa gave the USA advantage, but South Africa’s urgent defense kept them from adding points to the board. 

South Africa kept a tight defensive line throughout the match, making it a big challenge for the USA to break through and find momentum with ball in hand. The urgency and pressure created scrappy play for the USA, which gave South Africa opportunities to score on the Dawgs. A final try by South Africa ended the game 7-24, sending the USA to the ninth place quarterfinal. 

Ryan Santos made his Series debut in the last minute of the South Africa game.

The USA met Spain on the pitch for the ninth place quarterfinal, a team with strong determination to win in order to stay out of the Series playoff zone. Their motivation was on full display from the start, as Spain was fierce with their defense to turn over the ball and get the first try of the match. The Dawgs stayed quick on attack at the beginning to get out of their zone and respond with points by Lucas Lacamp on the wing, but that would be the last time the USA saw the try zone until the end of the match. 

Spain kept control of the ball for most of the match, and were quick in the breakdowns when the USA had ball in hand. The Dawgs weren’t able to organize their defense in time for Spain to find windows of opportunity. Near the end of the second half, Malacchi Esdale would have the last say with the final try, ending the game with a 14-42 loss, heading to the 13th place semifinal against Kenya.  

The USA’s inability to build momentum on the ball was evident against Kenya. Receiving to start, some fumbling mistakes gave Kenya possession. The USA didn’t let up, wrestling at the breakdowns to gain the ball back, and it finally paid off for some time with ball in hand. The strong and physical Kenya defense gave the Dawgs a challenge to run fast and build momentum, but some miscommunications put the ball back in the opponent’s hands. Kenya fought their way back to USA territory, where they scored the only try of the first half. 

The USA used the second half to try and take control, but Kenya kept slipping through their defenses. On the attack, the Dawgs failed to build anything off of their possession. Kenya took advantage of the USA’s disorganization and found opportunities to score and win 19-0. 

USA Men’s Sevens Roster | HSBC France Sevens

Name Position HSBC Tournaments
1. Aaron Cummings Forward 13
3. David Still Forward/Wing 17
5. Joe Schroeder Forward 31
6. Kevon Williams (C) Halfback/Wing 46
7. Naima Fuala’au Halfback 24
8. Malacchi Esdale Wing/Center 17
9. Stephen Tomasin Utility 53
10. Faitala Talapusi Halfback 18
12. Lucas Lacamp Center 12
14. Marcus Tupuola Halfback/Center 24
18. Maka Unufe Center 47
25. Pita Vi Halfback 3
26. Jack Wendling Forward 3
27. Ryan Santos Flyhalf 1

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 France Results

Pool C

v. Fiji | 21-21 (D)

v. France | 14-19 (L)

v. South Africa | 7-24 (L)

9th Place Semifinal

v. Spain | 14-42 (L)

13th Place Semifinal

v. Kenya | 0-19 (L)

HSBC France Sevens Full Results »