No rest for the wicked as the USA Men’s Sevens end a short two-day break between the HSBC LA Sevens this past weekend and immediately board a flight to South Africa for the Rugby World Cup Sevens 2022.
After a physical weekend in Los Angeles, the USA are now without a few veterans following injuries to Joe Schroeder and Folau Niua at Dignity Health Sports Park. Captain Kevon Williams will also sit out Cape Town with injury. Despite the challenge of a youthful roster in a peak event, the Rugby World Cup Sevens is a massive opportunity for this collection of young talent to improve their game on the highest level and become more consistent under the brightest lights of the sevens pitch. In what is now a pure knockout format, differing from the pool play format of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, the USA will prepare to play every match with elimination on the line. The USA open play against either Samoa or Uganda, pending results from their pre-Round of 16 fixture, at 9:39 AM ET on Friday, September 9. The Rugby World Cup Sevens will be live on the NBC family of networks with the entirety of the tournament streaming live on Peacock.
Given the single elimination format the USA will not plan for pool play, by scouting and preparing for multiple teams as they would traditionally do on a Series stop. The Rugby World Cup sevens format requires an undefeated streak in order to hang gold on your neck by tournament’s end. 24 total teams will compete in Cape Town on the Men’s side, where 16 teams will compete in the pre-Round of 16 to then move on and match up with the eight pre-qualified teams from the Rugby World Cup Sevens 2018, including the USA. Each of the pre-qualified teams finished top 10 on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series standings this year, proving the field of competition over the last four years has remained consistently strong. Winners from the Round of 16 will move on to the Championship bracket for their shot at the podium, while losers will then compete in a Challenge Bracket. The USA will have to wait for their first round opponent, as they take on the winner of Samoa vs Uganda earlier in the day. Samoa just recently finished 4th in LA, while Uganda did not make an appearance on the series this year and punched their ticket to Cape Town through the Africa Regional Qualifier.
The last Rugby World Cup Sevens in 2018 was a heartbreaker for the USA, nearly losing to England on a try at the death that eliminated them from medal contention in front of a sold-out crowd on home soil in San Francisco. Of the 13 players traveling to Cape Town in 2022, only three were there at Oracle Park in 2018, that being Perry Baker, Maka Unufe and tournament Captain, Stephen Tomasin. Faitala Talapusi, who competed in a majority of the Sevens Series this year, was in camp with the USA Men’s Sevens during the 2018 window but will now make his Rugby World Cup Sevens debut in South Africa. Ben Broselle also joins the squad as the only other player not rostered in Los Angeles.
Lastly, in a notable achievement, Maka Unufe will make is third appearance in the Rugby World Cup Sevens, having been named to the roster in 2013, 2018 and 2022. Unufe rejoined the sevens squad in Los Angeles after a season on the fifteens pitch with the Houston SaberCats.
Prior to arriving in LA for the final stop of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, the Men’s Eagles Sevens remained on the training pitch at the Elite Athlete Training Center and recently hosted two rounds of international exhibition tournaments against Korea, Japan, France, Uruguay and Argentina to ensure the squad had some international match play during the long hiatus and going into these all-important back-to-back competitions.
Head Coach Mike Friday’s squad is on paper, young and largely inexperienced, however each player over the extent of this past year has shown what potential they can offer next week in Cape Town, and in the coming years. Each of the Series rookies will once again have the opportunity to compete on the World Rugby stage under the tutelage of a combined 144 World Series tournaments, Olympics and Rugby World Cups through Baker, Tomasin and Unufe. Veteran guidance paired with the excitement of a first Rugby World Cup Sevens offers a unique dynamic and as always on the sevens pitch, any team can win. The USA will run out expecting to do just that each game. Being the underdogs is nothing new to the USA team, in fact it’s a brand the team wears proudly as Dawgs.
Head Coach Mike Friday’s comments ahead of the Rugby World Cup Sevens:
“Reflecting on LA, it was again a weekend of ups and downs where as a young squad we showed what we are capable of, but lacked the consistency to take advantage of those critical moments. Our best performance was the opening game against South Africa where we were clinical, physical and played with the speed and accuracy required to be successful. We produced that type of play in every other game, but failed to do so consistently allowing teams back into games or to get ahead. This was clearly the reality of the quarterfinal against Fiji where after an unfortunate missed ‘knock on’, that led to Fiji going 7-0, we found ourselves 14-0 from the restart. We showed great character and application to get back in the game 21-12 and were pressing hard with all the momentum meters from the line, but made the error that relieved pressure and momentum was lost. These are the moments we have to persevere as a group and work to win because the energy, effort and desire is evident and we certainly possess the ability to own these moments. At this stage, it’s about turning that youthful potential into controlled action and results.
The downside to the weekend is we were hit hard with injuries, down to eight fit players for that final game against Kenya, resulting in two of our most experienced players in Joe Schroeder and Folau Nuia being unable to travel with the squad to Cape Town for the Rugby World Cup Sevens. This provides two younger players the opportunity to step up and rise to the challenge of this unforgiving game.
The format of the Rugby World Cup Sevens makes the tournament even more brutal, with basically NCAA March Madness in September! The straight knockout scheme puts a lot of pressure on all teams from the get go and there is no room for error, particularly in sevens where you could be on the end of a call, not within your control, that may determine a result. We are due to meet the winner of Uganda and Samoa in our first game, which will mean we need to start fast and accurately control possession to give us the best chance to progress. It will be a huge challenge for us as a group, but one that we are excited to rise to.”
USA MEN’S EAGLES SEVENS ROSTER | RUGBY WORLD CUP SEVENS 2022
|Stephen Tomasin (C)||Utility||44||2018|
|Maka Unufe||Center/10||44||2013, 2018|
*The final 12-man roster is still to be determined
USA MEN’S EAGLES SEVENS STAFF | RUGBY WORLD CUP SEVENS
Head Coach | Mike Friday
Assistant Coach | Phil Greening
Performance Analyst | Dave Gardner
Strength & Conditioning | Josh Schnell
Athletic Trainer | Bobby Gragston
Team Manager | Scott Novack