The USA Men’s Eagle Sevens team lost a nail-biter to Australia in the USA Sevens bowl semifinal after a dominant 21-5 win over France in the bowl quarters. The win over France was the Eagles’ only ‘W’ of the tournament, but a 1-4 record in Vegas perhaps doesn’t represent the progress the team showed in front of their home crowd.
“If you look at our games this week, all of the games have been pretty competitive. So, we’re almost there, we just have got to make sure our players don’t lose sight of it and they keep their confidence high and continue to progress,” said the USA Head Coach, Al Caravelli.
A heartbreaker in the bowl semifinal was the last appearance for the home team at the USA Sevens.
Australia struck first in the bowl semi. The Aussies found themselves with an attacking line out at midfield. Through two good passes into their midfield they easily burst through and dotted own under the posts.
The next phase of play had the Eagles pinned against their own try line after mounting pressure from the Aussies. But this was truly the only consistent possession the Eagles had had in the first few minutes and they were set on relishing the attacking side of this match.
From some quick passes from his captain and then onto Palefau, Maka Unufe trusted his feet to beat his opponent and sped down the grand-stand sideline to standing crowds, seemingly beginning a wave around the stadium. He burst past two tacklers and found himself in the clear in the Australian half but the touch judge was not following him. The assistant referee had put his flag high into the air claiming Unufe’s foot had felt the grass on the touch line. It was an Australian ball at midfield amidst a quieted crowd.
Hoping to challenge the Australian line out and use the set piece as a chance to secure possession through Zack Test’s aerial skills and Matt Hawkins great timing in the lift, the Eagles won the ball back and were once again attacking in Australian territory. The Eagles were undoubtedly in their attacking rhythm as they built the phases down the right side of the field drawing in the defense while expanding their attacking options at will.
The ensuing phase had Shalom Suniula cutting across the Australian defense, drawing in tacklers as he switched back inside to Zack Test. Test took a hard tackle from an Australian player but his hands were still free, looking for support. Just then, Andrew Durutalo cut through the gap screaming for the ball. Test off loaded perfectly and Durutalo found himself alone under the posts dotting down for the Eagles’ first try. The conversion was easily slotted by Suniula. The score was level at seven points each.
At the restart the Australians quickly found themselves once again, breaking tackles and leaving players grasping at goose steps, the Aussies dotted down but the conversion was missed. Australia led 12 points to 7 with a minute left in the first half.
Towards the end of the first half the Eagles continued to have trouble with their tackling as the Aussies again side stepped and off loaded their way into Eagles territory. They touched down a well-worked team try right under the posts and the resulting conversion was made sending the Eagles down 19 to 7 to Australia at half time.
As the second half began the Eagles seemed to fix some of their defensive problems as they pushed the Aussies back into dangerous territory. The Aussies relieved the pressure with a long kick down field which was secured by Test. The following phases saw the Eagles struggling to get the ball out of their own zone but also defending well and causing turn overs in their own half.
From one of these turn overs Shalom Suniula made a break beyond the Australian line and began a well-executed side-to-side team effort. Through some great support and offloading a massive over load was spotted on the far side and Unufe was begging for the chance to shine after his try was called back from the assistant referee earlier in the game. He gathered a great pass from Matt Hawkins and sprinted to dot down in the corner. The crowd was going wild as Suniula converted from the touch line and the Eagles came into range of the Australians with a score of 19-14 with two minutes left in the match.
The last minute of the game saw the Eagles challenging desperately and making a few bursts of individual athleticism to get the crowd hopeful for a last minute try. But it was not to be as the ball went into touch after formidable Australian defense. The Eagles challenged at the next lineout securing the ball. Their eagerness however got the best of them as they were once again penalized for an infringement in the ensuing ruck. The Australians took this chance to send the ball into the grateful and loyal Sam Boyd Crowd as the Eagles ended their USA Sevens campaign with a 19-14 loss to Australia.
Caravelli applauded his team for huge improvements from their 0-5 skid in Wellington last week, and wants them to continue to improve and enjoy their rugby.
The wheels on the Eagles were perhaps bottled up by a narrow field at Sam Boyd Stadium this weekend, and the next tournament in Hong Kong will give the USA flyers an opportunity to fly. Among the speedsters is newcomer Maka Unufe, who has rocketed to international rugby after playing at the Under-19 level just last year.
“We’re looking forward to seeing Maka in Hong Kong with 70 meters of space and two tournaments under his belt now,” said Caravelli.
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