While an improved finish for the USA Men’s Sevens from their result in Los Angeles, the Dawgs will leave Vancouver with a reflection on opportunity following a historic weekend for two members of the squad at the HSBC Canada Sevens. The 12 points earned keeps the squad in the conversation for an attempt to qualify early for the Paris Olympics.
It was a rollercoaster weekend for the USA Men’s Sevens as they looked to turn around results from a disappointing home tournament. An uncharacteristic start to pool play turned around to earn a spot in the quarterfinals and later compete in the fifth place playoff. While it wasn’t the placement the squad hoped for, there were some celebratory moments over the weekend, including Steve Tomasin earning his 50th tournament cap. Perry Baker scored his 250th try in the quarterfinal game, becoming only the third athlete to ever score as many tries on the World Series circuit.
Comments from Head Coach Mike Friday post-tournament: “There were certainly some lows, and there were also some highs. The reality is that the performances were bookended against New Zealand. It was just not good enough by us. There were too many errors against a team that is ruthless if you give them opportunities. They put us to the sword both times because of our naivete and making mistakes at critical times. Those are the big work-ons; we have to eradicate the basic, individual errors from our game.”
Looking to reverse the results of last weekend’s matchup against New Zealand, the USA opened up their first pool play game with a confident defense. Their patience in the breakdowns and recycles paid off for a USA line out. Unfortunately play was unsuccessful, and New Zealand stole the ball and ran toward their first try of the game. USA organization was wavering, and the All Blacks continued to be clinical in their offense and ball management. Failing to counter, USA missed opportunities gave New Zealand control of the field to win the game 52-0.
With the devastating loss, the USA knew they had to turn around the result in their next game against Samoa. The importance of the match was not lost on the squad, a win meant they were still in the mix for quarterfinals, and a loss meant they would take a major step back from chances of Olympic qualification. This was a pendulum match, with that in mind, USA v. Samoa started out physical and fierce from both ends. Samoa had early possession, but the USA capitalized on a passing mistake to take control. Easy passes between the forwards gave the ball to Perry Baker, who struck first with a try, putting up USA points and giving some confidence among the squad.
The confidence showed in the restarts, where the USA was able to keep control of the ball. Keeping ball in hand was essential for David Still to break through for another USA try. A dominating first half for the Dawgs set them up well for the rest of the match, but they had to keep up the momentum for seven more minutes. They kept the defensive pressure on to get the turnover, but small mistakes gave the ball back to Samoa for their own points. With two minutes left, the Dawgs had to keep possession, score more points, and run down the clock. A nail-biting last seconds of the game with Samoa in control saw the USA fighting hard to keep their names in contention for the quarterfinals. The fight paid off, and the squad ended the night with a 14-12 win.
The USA’s last pool match against Spain was another high-pressure match that the squad couldn’t lose. The game would be a tight one the entire 14 minutes, coming down to the final seconds of the match. The USA won their own kickoff from the start with an epic leap from Aaron Cummings, and Malacchi Esdale ran right through Spain’s defensive line for a try within the first 20 seconds. Spain responded not long after, though, finding space to get their own points. The score didn’t let the Dawgs waver, and went on the attack for a Perry Baker try, and Stephen Tomasin kicked a difficult conversion that would be essential for the final score.
The second half began with a USA attack with some scrappy play by both sides, but a scrum set piece created an opportunity from their own 22. The physical fight was long and exhausting, but the patience paid off with a run and score by David Still. With minutes left and Spain with the ball, USA defense needed to be as solid as ever. It paid off until Spain scored points in the final seconds, but Spain took too long to make the conversion, ending the match in a draw 19-19.
The score ended up being the USA’s saving grace, as they just made the quarterfinals to meet Ireland in the last match of the day on Saturday. Ireland was the one that showed dominance from the start, capitalizing on a loose ball and running over the try line within the first 30 seconds of the game. The USA fought hard to respond and it finally paid off with a try by Perry Baker, who scored his 250th World Series try to even the score with Ireland.
At the halftime whistle, Ireland found themselves on the USA try line, but the USA defended the line to get the ball back for a line out, but with fatigue setting in and two minutes over the first half, the Dawgs kicked it out for a rest. The game continued to be tense in the second half, with both teams making mistakes and missing scoring opportunities for the majority of the time. Ireland finally found the space to strike and get another try, so it was up to the USA to score. The rest of the second half continued with alternating possession, but the squad patiently offloaded to make their way into Ireland territory and give Malacchi Esdale the chance to try with 13 seconds left. A missed conversion tied up the match, sending the teams into extra time.
Both teams struggled to gain ground in extra time, leaving the score 10-10 to head to a second extra time. Continuing to fight hard to get the golden point, both teams started trading crucial turnovers, a few of which just meters from the try line. Ireland found the space to enter USA territory and took advantage of mistakes to score the final points of the match for a 10-15 win, sending the USA to the 5th place semifinal against Fiji.
On pool play and quarterfinals, Friday noted, “Some huge positives, both in victories and in losses. I think the character and resilience, the bounce back from the New Zealand game to go out and get a result against Samoa. We found a way to win that game against a very highly talented Samoan team. Similarly in the Spain game, we got it done. We earned the opportunity to play in the quarterfinals and we found a way to get it done. What can I say about that quarterfinal? Absolute character, resolve and attitude of mind.
Apologies have come after around what was happening at the scrum time, which was illegal both in terms of what Ireland were doing and the non-striking of the scrums, we can’t hide from those facts. And that ultimately determined what was a very tight game.”
Fiji is always a tough yet exciting opponent, and the USA went in knowing it would be a physical fight. The Dawgs found their first attacking opportunity early on, and Naima Fuala’au tapped it right under the posts for the first game points. Fiji responded quickly, though with points of their own. David Still broke through for another USA try, but halftime began with Fiji in the lead.
The second half continued to be a physical battle between the two teams as they both looked for space between their big tacklers. Patience on the attack created an opportunity for Steve Tomasin to sail under the posts for another try, but Fiji’s response tied up the game 19-19 to send the match to extra time. Winning the kick off and this time determined to earn the golden points, and it paid off with Perry Baker running on the wing to win the game for the USA 24-19.
The tournament came full circle in a rematch against New Zealand for the 5th place playoff. The match started out with New Zealand dominance, finding gaps in USA defense and capitalizing on mistakes to own the first half. Determined to shrink the score gap, the attack tried to widen New Zealand’s defensive line, giving Gavan D’Amore space to run over the try line at the 14th minute. Cody Melphy added points for the USA with a tough conversion angle to end the game 50-7.
Friday said, “All I can say is that the fight, the resolve, the character, and the attitude are exactly the behaviors I want to see from a team that represents the USA. I was very proud of that. That’s the attributes you want to see in a team as they develop and they nurture and move forward. We didn’t see enough of that in LA, and we saw a load of that in Vancouver.
As we know, the biggest achilles heel for this team is consistency of execution. Yes, we’re good enough to compete for quarterfinals, semifinals, and medals, and we should be in that Olympic qualification conversation. Sadly because of our inconsistencies and making too many mistakes at critical times, we’ve made it hard work for ourselves and put ourselves in a bit of a hole. This team is playing catchup in what is a very ruthless World Series. Like everyone else, we are dealing with injuries, but we possibly don’t have the depth that some other mature nations have. I have every confidence that this group is moving forward and getting better. We have to learn the lessons, one hundred percent. It’s very easy to throw stones when you’re on the outside, when you don’t really understand the intensity, the brutality, the ferocity of what happens on the World Sevens circuit, where you have nine teams going all out for Olympic qualification, and five teams fighting to stay up and in the series.
I think we need to bring consistency, is one thing. Our execution of the basics under pressure is a second thing, and third thing we need to stay confident. Confidence can be fragile when they get knocked down, but I think we need to maintain that resilience journey and keep moving forward.”
The USA will return to Chula Vista where they will recoup and refine for the next stop on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series in Hong Kong. HSBC Hong Kong Sevens kicks off March 31, 2023, live on Peacock.
USA Men’s Sevens Roster | HSBC Vancouver Sevens
|1. Aaron Cummings||Forward||10|
|3. David Still||Forward/Wing||15|
|6. Kevon Williams (C)||Halfback/Wing||43|
|7. Naima Fuala’au||Halfback||21|
|8. Malacchi Esdale||Center/Wing||14|
|9. Stephen Tomasin||Utility||50|
|10. Faitala Talapusi||Halfback||15|
|11. Perry Baker||Wing/Center||63|
|13. Cody Melphy||Halfback||8|
|14. Marcus Tupuola||Halfback/Center||21|
|15. Gavan D'Amore||Forward||16|
|16. Adam Channel||Forward||8|
|18. Maka Unufe||Center||46|
USA Men’s Sevens Traveling Staff
Head Coach | Mike Friday
Performance Analyst | Dave Gardner
Strength & Conditioning | Josh Schnell
Athletic Trainer | Bobby Gragston
Team Manager | Scott Novack
USA Men's Sevens Vancouver Results
v. New Zealand | 0-52 (L)
v. Samoa | 14-12 (W)
v. Spain | 19-19 (D)
Quarterfinals v. Ireland | 10-15 (L)
5th Place Semifinal v. Fiji | 24-19 (W)
5th Place Playoff v. New Zealand | 7-50 (L)