Tough Cape Town Sevens weekend for USA Men’s Sevens ends with big lessons for young players

Mike Lee - KLC Photos
Mike Lee - KLC Photos

The USA Men’s Sevens finished eleventh at Cape Town Sevens, ending an educational two weeks of SVNS. The Eagles ended on a high note with a clinical win over Samoa, but the squad will head back to Chula Vista to reconnect and reflect. 

As the team breaks for the holiday, they will return in January to prepare for the next SVNS stop in Perth, with Kevon Williams set to return as captain. Key impact players Perry Baker, Stephen Tomasin, and Joe Schroeder will be back in play, which will give the young USA squad a boost of veteran playing power through the rest of the season. 

Comments from head coach Mike Friday: 

“It was a really tough weekend with steep learning curves for a lot of the boys. We need to have perspective that we were without our four senior boys because we deliberately decided to give them extended rest after the summer. It was always part of our strategy that we would have a fully fit, functional squad by January, not by Dubai and Cape Town. With the senior boys returning and the valuable lessons we’ve learned here this weekend, we should be a very strong, resilient, robust squad capable of moving forward.

So, we always knew it would be a big gamble coming here with such a young, inexperienced squad alongside Madison Hughes and Ben Pinkelman, who haven’t played on the series for two-and-a-half years. But you can’t be deemed young forever, and we made too many unforced individual mistakes. 

As a consequence, we lost the majority of our games. We didn’t turn up in the game against Ireland, but the other four games were down to us, not the opposition, and not looking after the ball and being smart with our attack and defensive plays. These are the lessons we have to learn from this tour knowing that Perth will be a different story. We hate to lose, and we’re still unhappy where we sit in the standings, but the reality is it’s about winning a war, not losing a battle. 

The young boys had a lot of important lessons to learn here. In all our games aside from Ireland, had we done the basics well, physically, at speed, and consistently without unforced errors, they would have turned out differently. Details do matter and delivering on your jobs at critical moments are necessary on this circuit.”

Tournament Recap

The Eagles started their first Cape Town matchup against Ireland strong, winning their own kickoff and earning a scrum penalty. Ireland was playing some scrappy defense at the start, tight and clustered as the Eagles worked to get through. Their patience and phase play almost paid off, but the Dawgs lost the ball just before scoring. The USA unable to reset, Ireland scrambled together and put points on the board. Their control of the ball strengthened as the USA failed to respond well to the pressure, resulting in messy offloads and missed opportunities. Ireland kept control to win the first Pool A match 31-0. 

A match against the home team with a screaming home crowd will always be a challenge, but the Eagles went in knowing they needed to be quick and physical against the strong South African side. They displayed good pressure at the start, getting South Africa to knock on several times. The USA made South Africa work on attack, and it eventually paid off when the Dawgs won the ball back to build their own momentum. It was an exchange of possession with two tries for South Africa until the Blitzboks took a yellow card for a high tackle. Lucas Lacamp took full advantage of the two minutes, scoring two tries within minutes of each other to tie up the score. The rest of the match was a fight, but the USA lost steam at the end for the Blitzboks to score and win 26-14. 

With quarterfinal chances slim, the Eagles went in to the Great Britain match focused on gaining experience. The USA was strong to start while Great Britain struggled with physicality and conceded penalties, with Ben Broselle striking first off a series of phases. But Great Britain would respond each time with a try against scrambled USA defenders. It was a solid team effort on attack for the Dawgs with some great plays ending in brilliant tries. Naima Fuala’au kicked the ball over to Madison Hughes who nabbed it off the bounce and away to the try zone. Lucas Lacamp scored off a smart offload by Lance Williams, and Adam Channel broke away to a try that evened the score for the game to go to extra time. The overtime didn’t last long, as Marcus Tupuola went to the bin for an intentional knock on, giving Great Britain the space to strike and win the match 26-31.

The Dawgs’ pool placement meant a rematch against Great Britain bright and early for a ninth place semifinal. The USA were urgent on defense at the start, but let small mistakes slip away to let Great Britain maintain control for the majority of the match. The Eagles showed their potential on their attacking chances. Madison Hughes used his kicking skills to kick a grubber for Malacchi Esdale to race toward, kicking it down to the try zone. Esdale picked and scored for a highlight-worthy score, and went on to score a second try after ripping open the Great Britain defensive wall. Madison Hughes’ two successful conversions added four points to the tally, but it wouldn’t be enough against Great Britain’s quick and focused attack, giving them the win, 14-21, sending the USA to an 11th place playoff against Samoa. 

Though the USA were far from where they wanted to be at the end of the weekend, they went in with the same determination to win. Samoa would prove to be a physical side, and the USA needed to match it. Starting on defense, Lucas Lacamp picked up a loose ball and the USA built up for Aaron Cummings to reach over the try line for the first score. The Eagles looked more connected in this game than they had all weekend, doing well to win the ball back. Their cohesion led to some exceptional offloading, leading to Orrin Bizer to score his first series try. Naima Fuala’au and Lance Williams juggled offloads to gain ground before passing to Madison Hughes for the finish. Adam Channel scored the final points for the Eagles with a run down, and while Samoa found the defensive gaps to sprint to tries, the USA came out with the win, 24-19. 

USA Men’s Sevens Roster | 2023 HSBC SVNS Cape Town
Name Position HSBC Tournaments
1. Aaron Cummings Forward 16
2. Ben Broselle Forward/Center 18
3. Jack Wendling Forward 5
7. Naima Fuala’au Halfback 24
8. Malacchi Esdale Wing/Center 20
12. Lucas Lacamp Center 15
13. Orrin Bizer Forward 2
14. Marcus Tupuola Halfback/Center 26
17. Lance Williams Forward 4
18. Adam Channel Forward 12
23. Will Chevalier Halfback 3
28. Ben Pinkelman (C) Forward 38
30. Madison Hughes Halfback 54
USA Men’s Sevens Cape Town Traveling Staff

Head Coach | Mike Friday

Performance Analyst | Dave Gardner

Strength & Conditioning | Josh Schnell

Athletic Trainer | Bryan Gardner

Team Manager | Scott Novack

USA Men’s Sevens Cape Town Results

Saturday, December 9

Pool A

v Ireland | 0-31 (L)

v South Africa | 14-26 (L)

v Great Britain | 26-31 (L)

Sunday, December 10

9th Place SF v Great Britain | 14-21 (L)

11th Place Playoff v Samoa | 24-19 (W)