Rugby World Cup Sevens ends on a high note for USA Men's Sevens

Mike Lee - KLC Photos
Mike Lee - KLC Photos

The Rugby World Cup Sevens is a special event for many reasons.

While most will see the Olympic games as the pinnacle competition or achievement for the USA Eagles Sevens, the Rugby World Cup has a recent history that energizes the fanbase, where the expectations and tenacity of the Men’s Sevens is evident of that. While not finding the results this youthful squad would have expected, or are very capable of, an elevated educational experience can be taken away from this weekend with higher pressures than a traditional HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series stop. The USA would fall out of medal contention in their first match of the tournament, losing to a surging Samoa before going 1-1 in the Challenge Cup bracket on day two and a final victory over Kenya on Sunday. While added experience is a given takeaway from Cape Town, what’s more valuable is the next level of confidence this team will see as a group. In a full stadium with recurring pressure and the, this group as a whole will walk away with a new understanding for their own self-assurance and capabilities as they head in to an important 2022-23 season with Olympic qualification on the line.

Head Coach Mike Friday's notes after the Rugby World Cup Sevens:

The format of the Rugby World Cup Sevens differs from what these teams are used to. A single elimination format means you must win every match to keep in it, and aside from the opener, you have no opportunity for opponent preparation as the bracket is sorted in real time. Samoa would win their pre-round of 16 match against Uganda, to then face the Americans. The USA unfortunately never held a lead throughout the match, despite holding the Samoans close in the first half with tries from David Still and Stephen Tomasin. A few missed restarts in the second half would allow Samoa to run away with the match late, eventually winning 40-12. Though a lower ranked team than the USA, Samoa have been on a high recently and having played earlier in the day provided a primer for the later match.

Captain Stephen Tomasin after the loss and on the restarts, “They were clinical when they had the ball in the second half. It’s about meeting them at the contact point, even if we’re not winning it clean, we’re still making it a tough ball to win. We really have to meet them in the air…”

Day two saw a victory over Wales in the Challenge Cup quarterfinal, and a heart-pumping loss to Uruguay in the early afternoon. The story of the Wales match was a first World Rugby try for rookie Aaron Cummings. The Davenport University product broke through on the left flank to earn his first ever score in a USA jersey, and on the Rugby World Cup stage no less. A clinical showing against Wales, five separate players earned tries with Baker, Broselle, Brown and Esdale all finding the paydirt for a 33-5 victory.

Despite not being a regular on the World Rugby circuit, the United States are familiar with the Uruguayan style of play as they hosted a majority of this side a few weeks earlier in Chula Vista. With that, Uruguay brought some familiarity in to the game as well. Both teams were evenly matched through the whole of the 14 minutes, Uruguay raced out to an early 21-12 lead, but a try from Perry Baker brought the USA to within two points with only seconds left and gave the Eagles one shot at a last restart. Maceo Brown went in for the jump ball, but James Mc Cubbin would have the loose ball bounce in front of him for an easy kick out to end the game. USA now fall out of the Challenge Cup race, 21-19.

Luacas Lacamp post-match, “Credit to Uruguay, they really played with a lot of passion. We definitely didn’t deliver where we wanted to deliver, it’s sevens, so sometimes it’s good and sometimes you get punched in the face.”

When asked about the experience overall, Lacamp replied “It’s a World Cup right, it’s a new experience for 75% of the team. We’re leaning on the senior guys who have been really helpful through all of this and we’re lucky to have that.”

The tournament finale was another clash with Kenya, the same final match from a few weeks ago in Los Angeles where a shorthanded USA squad lost to an expired time try at the death. Cape Town would be a different story as Perry Baker collected two tries in a gritty comeback win from being down 14-7 in the early part of the second half. The speed of Lacamp and Esdale again showed flashes.

Head Coach Mike Friday after the Kenya win, “We held fast in defense for a majority of the game. We kind of gifted them tries at the start and at the end, but we moved them around, moved the ball and took our chances. That was great to see. It’s been a tough week for the boys, both physically and emotionally, so to get out there and bounce back as we move into an Olympic qualification year was great to see.”

Looking ahead the goals and ambitions of for the USA Men’s Sevens are clear, Olympic Qualification for Paris 2024. The 2022-23 HSBC World Rugby Series standings will determine which teams prequalify by next summer, with the top four punching their ticket early. The remaining go to a potential regional competition in early 2024. The USA Men will head home for a short break before reassembling and allowing some veterans to recover from injury as they put the immediate focus on a rescheduled Hong Kong Sevens that will come up quickly in October.