USA Men’s Sevens resilient en route to bronze medal in Cape Town

Mike Lee - KLC Photos
Mike Lee - KLC Photos

The USA Men’s Eagles Sevens fought their way to a bronze medal finish in their third 2023 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series stop in Cape Town.

Their first medal of this World Series season, including an impressive quarterfinal win against Fiji, pushed the USA into fourth place on the overall standings and closer to qualifying for the 2024 Olympics. From the start, the Eagles displayed confidence in their plays despite a major loss in the knockout stages when Lucas Lacamp was taken off due to injury. 

Head Coach Mike Friday’s comments post-tournament:  “We’re very pleased with the bronze and overall attitude, behavior, and the chemistry both in attack and defense that the squad have shown both weekends.” 

The Eagles began the three-day tournament with a 38-5 win over Uganda. The USA played a very clinical game and managed the ball well while capitalizing on penalties conceded by Uganda. Lucas Lacamp was a highlight of the first half for scoring his fifth career hat trick, showing off his speed and ability to evade the opposing side. The USA spread the ball well throughout the game and took scrums at every chance to create space for more try opportunities. The Eagles remained clinical until the last minute, when Malacchi Esdale received a yellow card for a dangerous tackle. The Cranes took advantage to show off their offensive prowess to score their first try of the game in the last seconds. 

In their second pool play match, the Eagles had a fierce opponent in Great Britain, who upset Series Champions Australia on day one in Cape Town. The USA worked to improve their speed, decision on the edges, and remain dominant with the ball, and their work paid off with a 36-5 win. Perry Baker glided past Great Britain for two tries and earned his 240th series try to further solidify his place as the third-highest try scoring men’s sevens player of all time. David Still and Lucas Lacamp ran the field to bag a try each, and Marcus Tupuola found opportunities to break through and score two of his own. Great Britain used a drop kick to earn their first try of the game later in the second half, but the USA’s defense and ability to outrun the opponent were the hallmarks of the match. 

Heading into their final Pool D match against Australia, the USA would have a tough fight against the 2022 Series Champions. The Aussies put the pressure on early, but the USA kept the buildup through solid offloads and passes for Lucas Lacamp to score the first try of the game. Australia played very clinical throughout the match, capitalizing on some penalties conceded by the Eagles. Despite some scrappy passes, the USA kept up momentum and teamwork to get back to back tries from Kevon Williams and then David Still, who picked up the ball after the team kicked it into space. Australia scored the final try of the game but missed the conversion, tying the teams 19-19, and the Eagles earned a spot to the quarterfinals as the top team in Pool D. 

“I was really pleased in pool play. I thought the players applied themselves fantastically. The attitude and work ethic was on point, and we were ruthless in those first two games against Uganda and Team GB with ball in hand and our possession. It was a real squad effort in those first two games to put both of those teams away with comprehensive wins. We did the simple things well, we supported one another. Collectively as a defensive we were physical and aggressive and controlled the game fantastically. With the Australia game, we decided to rotate and do things slightly differently to give players opportunities and to share the workload, and I thought we applied ourselves well in what was a very tasty game.”

In the quarterfinals, the USA matched up with Fiji, a known powerhouse who won their last seven quarterfinal games. The USA started with some awkward passes, and Fiji’s physical defense kept the USA from entering their 22 meter zone for the entire first half. In the second half, the USA found ways to create space, and a big hit fending off a tackle by Still gave Schroeder the opportunity to stretch the ball for a try. Still loaded up and paced his way for another try, and Esdale outpaced Fiji fresh off the bench for more points to the USA. Play went to the final seconds, when Ben Broselle caught up to Fiji and brought them down just before the try line, ending the game with a huge 17-7 win for the USA. The triumph was a confidence booster for the Eagles heading into a semifinal game against New Zealand. 

Lacamp, who was injured in the first half of the quarterfinal game, was helped off the pitch, unable to return to play in Cape Town. 

Friday’s comments after the quarterfinal: “To lose Luas so early in that game could’ve knocked us off our rhythm, but if anything, it galvanized the boys and it illustrated our desire in defense, physicality, and our cohesiveness and collective ability and attack where we controlled the ball. Our chemistry both sides of the ball was excellent and we fully deserved our win against Fiji.” 

Despite missing a key player in Lacamp, the Eagles went into the semifinal against New Zealand with confidence, eyes on a win after a bronze final loss to them in Dubai. The game was close until the final minutes, and the relatively young group of Eagles demonstrated they can hold their own against powerful opponents. Determined, the USA proved they wouldn’t back down with some explosive offensive plays, especially in the second half. Kevon Williams scored the first try for the USA by picking the ball from the breakdown. He soon bagged another by running on the side and winning a foot race against New Zealand’s defenders, and Baker also outran the All Blacks for a third USA try. The Eagles displayed great teamwork in their offloads, but New Zealand proved dangerous with the ball and punched their ticket to the cup final with a 33-17 win over the USA.

Friday added, “We were down at halftime simply because New Zealand exerted a lot of pressure on us defensively and we weren’t able to get ourselves in the right areas of the pitch. In the second half, we made the adjustments we needed to make and fought our way back into the game. The boys were disappointed but found a way to pick themselves up to come out and get ready for the South Africa game.” 

In the bronze medal match, the Eagles faced hosts and Dubai winners South Africa. Rain was pouring down on the field, giving wet and slippery conditions and making ball control more difficult. The USA held control for the first two minutes of the game, patiently going through phases to find space for Marcus Tupuola to get the first points on the board after a nearly three-minute first drive. Almost immediately, the Eagles regained possession and Esdale dove over the try line. The physical game saw big hits from both sides, but it didn’t slow down the Eagles’ first half offensive prowess. Joe Schroeder and Faitala Talapusi broke through South Africa’s wall for two more tries. Fatigue was evidently settling in near the end of the match, and the conditions affected both sides’ accuracy with defense and possession. The USA fought hard to keep the ball in their hands en route to a winning score of 22-14. 

Friday’s thoughts after the bronze final: “What we saw was a collective physical determination to meet fire with fire against South Africa and we controlled the ball in the wet conditions. We saw huge physical carries from Lance Williams, huge physical moments from David Still, mixed with the discipline and collective cohesiveness that Joe Schroeder brings in the breakdown. We fully deserved to win that game in what were difficult circumstances in front of a very lively home crowd.”

“The boys are all looking forward to going home and spending some well-needed time with their families and loved ones. We need to get back and rest and recover from what’s been a very tough two weeks of touring. We also need to reflect and rebuild for the next two legs. We’ve got a busy time ahead of us, but I’m eager for the boys to get home and enjoy the holidays with their friends, families, and loved ones, because they’ve truly earned it.”

The USA’s plays throughout the weekend proved they are competitive with the top teams and not an easy opponent. Looking ahead, the Eagles will head back to Southern California to prepare for their next stop on the series in New Zealand, January 21-22, 2023. 

USA Men’s Sevens Roster | HSBC Cape Town Sevens

Jersey Number & Name Position HSBC Tournaments
1. Aaron Cummings Forward 6
2. Ben Broselle Forward/Wing 14
3. David Still Forward/Wing 11
5. Joe Schroeder Forward 25
6. Kevon Williams (C) Halfback/Wing 39
7. Naima Fuala’au Halfback 17
8. Malacchi Esdale Center/Wing 10
9. Stephen Tomasin Utility 46
10. Faitala Talapusi Halfback 11
11. Perry Baker Wing/Center 59
12. Lucas Lacamp Center/Halfback 9
14. Marcus Tupuola Center/Halfback 17
15. Gavan D'Amore Forward 12
24. Lance Williams Forward 2

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

USA Men's Sevens Cape Town Fixtures and Results »