The USA Men’s Sevens squad put out solid performances in New Zealand to clinch the bronze medal, earning back to back Sevens Series medals for the first time since 2019. Continuing to improve, the USA now find themselves in second place on the 2023 world circuit, where the top four will earn early qualification to Paris 2024.
The Eagles had a few gritty performances all weekend en route to a bronze medal finish at the Hamilton Sevens tournament. The fourth stop of the 2023 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series showed improvements on the USA’s plays. The team worked hard to remain undefeated through to the semi finals, where Argentina outplayed the Eagles to earn a spot in the cup final. Determined for a medal, the Eagles reset their focus for a heart pumping comeback win against France for the bronze.
Head Coach Mike Friday’s comments on Hamilton performance, “While we were undefeated in pool play and our attacking shape was decent and we were creating spaces and moving the ball well, our pass and catch let us down on too many occasions. In day two, I was really proud of the boys’ application, clarity of execution, and the cohesive work ethic on and off the ball. I’m extremely pleased with the effort, the endeavor, and the attitude as well as the execution.”
The Eagles met Japan in their first pool match in Hamilton, who they last met in Dubai for a 43-7 win. With a goal of getting a win against the USA, the Japanese came into the game focused and determined. The USA did well going through at breakdowns and finding space for multiple tries, including two each from captain Kevon Williams and veteran Perry Baker, who earned his 60th tournament milestone in Hamilton. The USA had a better mindset going into the second half and did well to keep alignment off edge on the defense to earn their first win in New Zealand, 40-12.
Ireland was the next matchup for the Eagles, who beat the USA 12-7 in their last face off in Dubai. Hungry to improve on their last result against the Irish, the game was a pressure cooker on both sides. Ireland put pressure on early, and both teams had an enthusiastic start. A series of handling errors by the Eagles gave Ireland the first try near the end of the first half, but Perry Baker found space to run the line for USA points. The Irish kept the pressure on, but Ben Broselle kept his focus to get the ball over the line after a clinical series of phases and passes. Tied 14-14, the game went past the final whistle, becoming a high-pressure moment for both sides. Ireland did well in the restart but kicked it to touch, ending in a draw.
It was a battle of the Americas in the final Pool C match for the USA, matching up against Uruguay. With the goal to head into knockouts undefeated, the USA were looking for a clinical game. Their offense put the pressure on, forcing errors and getting the ball back through set pieces. The Eagles pushed away the Uruguay offense for several tries in the first half. After the break, the USA looked to have lost some steam, but Broselle preserved some energy to find an opening and run. On the defensive side, the Eagles did well to shut down anything wide, staying clean in their plays. With a 28-12 win in the books, the USA headed to the quarterfinals undefeated.
“We didn’t execute four or five clear try scoring opportunities in the Ireland game, and there were moments in the Japanese game and the Uruguay game where our execution and accuracy allowed the opposition to get tries and momentum. While we got through unscathed, we knew there were things we knew we had to focus on being better at going into day two.”
Heading to quarterfinals undefeated, the men faced off against reigning Series Champions Australia. The teams drew 19-19 in their last matchup in Cape Town, and both were looking for a win to the semifinals. The game started quick with the Wallaroos passing fast, but the USA earned the ball back in the first breakdown. Malacchi Esdale manipulated the opponents with his footwork for a brilliant finish and the first points of the match. The Eagles kept pressure on for another turnover and remained clinical throughout the game. With a focus on keeping their threes tight and fast, the Eagles conceded zero penalties despite Australia upping their defensive pressure in the second half. Tomasin completed every conversion to help the Eagles win 28-14.
Following the quarterfinal, Friday added, “We had a very set plan and every men stuck to the plan and did their part. What we started to see was some effortless attacking play and some quality defense as well. We were difficult to break down.”
Fatigue was setting in with the quick turnaround to the semifinal game against Argentina, who have proved to be a formidable force throughout the tournament. Los Pumas used their favorite kick and chase to score several tries, but Perry Baker responded with his own kick and chase to score right down the middle. Argentina kept control of the ball most of the time and connected really well to evade the Eagles’ defense. The USA had some shining moments in offloads to gain ground and get a try by Joe Schroeder, but Argentina tested the offense to its limits. Los Pumas won the matchup 24-14, and the USA head to the bronze final.
With three Hamilton Sevens wins under their belt heading into the bronze final, France would be a tough opponent to crack. Rested and ready from the semifinals, the Eagles kept a good head on their shoulders to hold a strong defensive wall. The game saw lots of physicality from both sides, and a yellow card to Naima Fuala’au gave France a power play and opportunity to score points. The Eagles found their strength in sending the ball wide to earn tries. At the end of the second half, the USA won a penalty near the try line, where Ben Broselle capitalized to get the final try, winning the game 15-14. Disciplined play at the breakdown kept the opportunity alive for last points, a showing Mike Friday and staff will be proud to see.
Friday’s comments on the semifinal and bronze final matches,”We knew that the Argentina game was going to be a hugely physical affair, and both teams were set driven, possession-oriented, and aggressively physical in the breakdown. It was a tight game, but when we look back, we lost those little moments. While we were in the game, we couldn’t quite hold on to the ball at the most important times, and those little moments cost us momentum and allowed Argentina to create opportunities for themselves. That’s a big lesson for this developing group to take on board. Nonetheless, the fight, the resilience, the guts, the grit, the determination was there.”
“We’re really pleased with the bronze medal match. A lot of the younger guys who hadn’t had as much big game time were given the opportunity in that bronze medal match to put effort forward, take ownership, take responsibility, and go out there and win the medal. It was really good to see the emerging boys stepping up to the plate and going head to head with a very decent French team. It was a tight affair and we made mistakes, but we didn’t panic and we took our opportunities and won some really important moments, like Naima Fuala’au at the scrum causing immense pressure, and moving the ball quickly and efficiently for Ben Broselle to get the winning score.”
Friday concluded, “We are going to have to get the little bits and pieces we didn’t get right this weekend, we’ll have to focus on the basics and tighten up our micro skills within our attacking game and defensive game while building the confidence we started to show on day two at Hamilton. Time to rest up, recover, get on the flight to Sydney, review the opposition, and work on those pieces coming Tuesday and Wednesday morning.”
With the results in Hamilton, the USA Men’s Eagles jumped to second place on the world rankings, a critical step toward qualifying for the 2024 Olympics. The men will continue to strive for similar results as they take on Sydney Sevens, LIVE on Peacock, January 27-29.
USA Men's Sevens Roster | Hamilton Sevens
|Jersey Number & Name||Position||HSBC Tournaments|
|1. Aaron Cummings||Forward||7|
|2. Ben Broselle||Forward/Wing||15|
|3. David Still||Forward/Wing||12|
|4. Maceo Brown||Center/Forward||21|
|5. Joe Schroeder||Forward||26|
|6. Kevon Williams (C)||Halfback/Wing||40|
|7. Naima Fuala’au||Halfback||18|
|8. Malacchi Esdale||Center/Wing||11|
|9. Stephen Tomasin||Utility||47|
|10. Faitala Talapusi||Halfback||12|
|11. Perry Baker||Wing/Center||60|
|14. Marcus Tupuola||Halfback/Center||18|
|15. Gavan D'Amore||Forward||13|
|16. Adam Channel||Forward||7|
USA Men’s Sevens Traveling Staff
Head Coach | Mike Friday
Performance Analyst | Dave Gardner
Strength & Conditioning | Josh Schnell
Athletic Trainer | Bobby Gragston
Team Manager | Scott Novack