For the first time ever, the United States hosted an HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series grand final on American soil as the LA7s closed out the 2021-22 circuit.
Dignity Health Sports Park was filled with fans from around the world and a large contingent of supporters in red, white and blue. The USA Men’s Sevens found themselves in yet another stacked pool for the final series stop, and once again were able to infuse more experience and cohesion for a young and developing squad. With Captain Kevon Williams on the sidelines recovering from a recent injury, veteran Stephen Tomasin stepped into the leading role with an intent on leading by example for the young players, who for many of them, went into their first experience of performing on home soil. An experience that comes with higher personal expectations and emotions. After a positive day one that saw the USA qualify for the Cup Quarterfinals, the Men’s Sevens would fall to Fiji and Kenya in a try at the death result during the 5th place semifinal. With the series now complete, the USA Men’s Sevens look to a rapid turnaround of events as they’ll take off for Cape Town this week and shift their focus to the Rugby World Cup Sevens in Cape Town, South Africa.
After the final match against Kenya, Head Coach Mike Friday noted that the final stop was a reflective end to the year saying, “This home tournament has been kind of a story of the series for us. There have been some great performances, some not so great performances, and all the in between. This series has been a rollercoaster ride for the squad, they're evolving and learning but we are certainly getting better and from what we have seen, this team is in an exciting proposition going forward.”
The weekend kicked off with a much-anticipated fixture against Series leading South Africa who entered LA needing to reach a quarterfinal to hold on their top spot. The United States showed no sign of intimidation on that front as they jumped out to an early lead, 21-0 in the first half. Perry Baker, Joe Schroeder and David Still earning tries. Some may have expected a different script considering the rankings of both teams, but the USA has matched up well with South Africa this season. Sakoyisa Makata added a try, but that would be it for the Blitzboks as the USA started the home tournament in the win column.
New Zealand brought the Eagles back down to earth in the second match of pool play after putting up 33 points. The USA had trouble containing and keeping tabs on each of the All Blacks Sevens as five different players tallied tries. The day one finale was a North American boarder battle with Canada that the USA won, but was closer than they would have liked. The USA ran out to another early lead against the 14th ranked team, but with a few handling errors, allowed Canada back onto the game late. A try from Malacchi Esdale sealed it however, the USA move forward to the Cup Quarterfinals. Tough news out of the first day however was an injury to veteran physical presence Joe Schroeder, who was helped off the field with a leg injury. Schroeder wouldn’t return for day two.
Day two saw an always exciting match up with Fiji. Considering the well-traveled continent of Fiji fans and the home team matched up in a quarterfinal, this fixture may well have been the loudest and most electric in the stands. This time the USA were on the wrong end of an early 21-0 lead as Kaminieli Rasaku and Joseva Talacolo earned tries in the first half. Tomasin however broke through up the middle from short distance to give the Eagles a much needed seven points and momentum into the break. The second half also saw chances for the USA, but a few missed passes and turnovers kept them out of the try zone and time ran out on a comeback.
The final game of the tournament and season for the USA was a heartbreaker, as a short-handed squad carried a tie into the final seconds against Kenya in the 5th place semifinal. With time expiring, it was a next-try-takes-all scenario that looked to fall the USA way with a few penalties giving them possession and ground, but after Tomasin came out of a line out with a limp in extra time, he made his way to the bench and Kenya took advantage of the scrambled defense with a midfield line break for the game winning try. That would be it for the USA in LA, and for the 202-22 season.
Tomasin said after the last match, “I think we went into that game with nine people, it’s been a rough weekend for us physically. Kenya is a hugely physical side, when you play them late in the weekend after you’ve already been through a lot early, it’s tough to match up against that. We stayed in it though, we fought hard for each other and just lost on the last play. Sometimes that’s the way it goes.”
Following an interesting summer and with the series now in the rearview, the Men’s Sevens shift focus to Cape Town and the Rugby World Cup Sevens. Last hosted in the United States at Oracle Park in San Francisco, the quadrennial event is a pure knockout format, where one loss means getting bounced from medal contention. One of the biggest challenges going into South Africa will be an injured roster of veterans, however as Friday has alluded to, these high-pressure moments on the biggest rugby sevens stages are always an opportunity for the future stars of the Men’s Eagles Sevens to take one more step forward in their development. Paris 2024 and importantly LA 2028 are ultimate goals for this team and more over USA Rugby. Combining the young identified talent with veteran leadership in competitive environments is how this team will build toward success in those two essential windows of time.
Mike Friday’s message to the team ahead of Cape Town:
|Player Name||Position||HSBC Tournaments|
|1. Aaron Cummings||Forward||3|
|2. Gavan D’Amore||Forward||9|
|3. David Still||Forward/Wing||9|
|4. Maceo Brown||Utility||21|
|5. Joe Schroeder||Forward||23|
|6. Maka Unufe||Center/10||44|
|7. Folau Niua||Halfback||76|
|8. Malacchi Esdale||Center/Wing||7|
|9. Stephen Tomasin (C)||Utility||44|
|10. Naima Fuala’au||Halfback||15|
|11. Perry Baker||Wing/Center||56|
|12. Lucas Lacamp||Center/10||7|
|13. Cody Melphy||Halfback||8|
USA Men’s Sevens Traveling Staff
Head Coach | Mike Friday
Assistant Coach | Ben Pinkelman
Head of Performance | Alex Ross
Performance Analyst | Dave Gardner
Strength & Conditioning | Josh Schnell
Athletic Trainer | Bobby Gragston
Team Manager | Scott Novack
USA Men’s Sevens Los Angeles Results
vs South Africa | (W) 21-7
vs New Zealand | (L) 33-12
vs Canada | (W) 26-17
vs Fiji | (L) 28-12
5th Place Semifinal
vs Kenya | (L) 21-14
Placement rounds begin Sunday, Aug 28 at 8:45 AM PT