Despite a few extended breaks, there was never much of a traditional off season for the USA Men’s Sevens as they completed the 2022 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series in August, immediately followed by the Rugby World Cup Sevens, and shortly after jumped right into training preparations for an early November start to the 2023 series in Hong Kong.
Within this uncompromising stretch, the physical and mental capacity of the squad has been tested, but it remains something Head Coach Mike Friday and staff are confident in as they look ahead to a promising year with new opportunities. Key leaders will find their way back from injury recovery while the group as a whole comes together with one target in mind, qualification for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.
As to be expected with a largely youthful squad managing through a few key injuries, the 2022 season was a fundamental learning experience for the Men’s Sevens. Head Coach Mike Friday noted on the previous season, “There were some harsh lessons learned, but we’re head first into 2023 following an extremely short break and keen to right some wrongs, although we know it won’t be easy. We’re hard at work refocusing on the fundamentals as we have to take the critical moments in games, which we didn’t last year.”
Those critical moments will all culminate in finishing top four of this year's sevens rankings, as the 2023 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series will act as the first opportunity to qualify for the 2024 Olympic games. As was the case with Tokyo, where the Men’s Sevens finished second, the top four Men’s and Women’s teams will automatically book their ticket to Paris, one year ahead of the games.
Friday added, “We are all about chasing tournament wins and the top four, and we’re confident we can do that. This group has shown that we can play well enough to make the quarterfinals in each tournament stop, so now it’s about working off the lessons of 2022 to win those quarterfinal matches and high-pressure situations.”
The Men’s residency roster and invites will see some changes come Hong Kong, most notably Carlin Isles who will take a step back from international rugby to focus on other off field interests. Logan Tago will venture back to the fifteen pitch for the Utah Warriors with the blessing and support of his USA sevens family. Late-season stand out and USA Rugby Pathway product, D’Montae Noble has also decided not to commit to residency to pursue other avenues and we wish him every success. 2022 breakout star Lucas Lacamp will remain part of the sevens selection pool, while also balancing his commitments as a student at UCLA.
Some additions, new and familiar, will return to Chula Vista this year. University of California – Berkeley star Sam Walsh will join the player pool in 2023. The PAC Rugby 7s stand out has been climbing through the development pathway since before college, with USA Rugby appearances on the Men’s Falcons, World School 7s and USA U23 RugbyTown 7s squads. Long time veteran Maka Unufe will also transition back to sevens as he begins a reintegration phase into residency. Unufe joined Coach Friday’s roster in Los Angeles for the 2022 Series finale, and again in Cape Town for his record third Rugby World Cup Sevens. With 44 World Series caps over the last decade, Unufe will soon add to the steady presence of veteran leadership, a few of which currently on the mend.
Captain Kevon Williams inches closer to a return, after injury held him out of LA and the Rugby World Cup Sevens. While not yet fit for the first leg of Hong Kong in November, Williams is targeting a return in Dubai the following month. Joe Schroeder is following the same timeline after his own setback in LA this past August.
2023 USA MEN’S SEVENS RESIDENCY PLAYER POOL
|Jacob||Lachina||Yet to Debut|
|Sam||Walsh||Yet to Debut|
With the majority of the squad showing how young and developed rugby IQ can shine on the world stage, the Men’s Sevens staff will continue to prospect grassroots talent, both in Chula Vista and through the network of USA Rugby Pathways. USA College 7s, USA Club 7s, Premier Rugby Sevens and RugbyTown 7s continue to be positive scouting grounds, while Assistant Coach Ben Pinkelman has taken on a player development role for the Men’s Sevens, looking to build a core group, most specifically for the LA 2028 Olympic games on home soil.
With helpful donations from a key program supporter, Pinkelman has already been underway inviting top prospects to Chula Vista for a two-week assembly this past summer, geared towards introducing these young players to the systems and culture of a professional international sevens environment. Select invites would also return to Chula Vista for an exhibition tournament with Korea and Uruguay alongside the senior squad as they prepared for Los Angeles. Looking ahead and in tandem with USA Rugby Pathways, the same core group of prospects will look to compete in invitational sevens tournaments before the end of the year, all before reconvening in Chula Vista for a winter camp this coming January. Going forward, the sevens program will strive to have a regular schedule of touch points with grassroots players, year in year out.
Ultimately, this young and evolving group have an opportunity in front of them as they look ahead to a full HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series schedule, for the first time since 2019. The course is set for this USA Men’s Sevens program as they work to bridge the gap lost to COVID postponements and restrictions with this developing roster and hopeful prospects. The new season is that window of opportunity and it kicks off on a big stage for the Hong Kong Sevens, November 4 live on Peacock.