Editor's note: This is second installment of columns from USA 7s team captain Shalom Suniula. Shalom will be updating readers on life in the 7s team, the players, the coaching, and notes from the IRB World Series. This column was available on preview to our Premier Subscribers and is now available to all readers. - AG
With the Gold Coast in full swing, the boys relaxed their way into the weekend, always thinking about the task at hand. We quickly dug into training, trying to get our bodies acclimated to the time zone with only three days until kick off.
Nerves definitely had set in as I presented the five debutants — Carlin Isles, Mike Te'o, Peter Dahl, Brett Thompson and Luke Hume — their first 7s Eagles jerseys at our traditional jersey presentation on the eve of day one. As you could imagine, the excitement in the players holding up their first Eagles 7s jerseys reflected the depth of what that meant to them, as well as reminded them of the hard work and sacrifice through which they had persevered. It is a very special and a very personal moment for the whole team, and for me it was an extreme privilege to present them with their jerseys. I wish them all the best in their 7s careers.
Day one rolled around with New Zealand first up. Personally, I thought we played well; one intercepted pass and two defensive errors resulted in a 19-7 game that easily could have gone the other way. The feeling across the board was positive going into our next two games, but the results didn't show it. Lack of communication and common errors saw us lose those games. I suffered an injury three minutes into the South Africa game and was ruled out for the remainder of the tournament. Of course I was very disappointed, but it's a long, grueling season and if injuries aren't managed properly, worse can be in store. Day two wasn't exactly what we intended it to be, either. Rather, recurring errors saw us go down to Wales after capturing the lead, beating Tonga, but losing poorly to Scotland. Harsh lessons learned against Scotland—we can’t go away from the game plan nor fail to commit to the tackle, or else 14 minutes becomes a very long time.
There were, however, a lot of positives to take out of that tournament. Some great passages of play as well as glimpses of individual brilliance saw us fall one try short in most cases. Yet, I felt a lack of cohesion within the team. I now ask myself what formula can I find, or what can I do as captain to bring together all the individual talents we have in this team? One of our players post-Gold Coast tournament said: "I really don't feel like this team shelled out for one another out there on the pitch." This left me wondering how many other players on the squad felt the same way.
I truly believe what was lacking in the team was “belief”: either believing in our systems or, more importantly, in ourselves. Personal breakthrough begins with a change in our beliefs. Why? Because our beliefs determine our expectations and our expectations determine our actions. As a result, enhanced team morale will be the natural outcome, which is what we're after.
There are many challenges that lay ahead for our team. I must first help rebuild belief in our players, paying more attention to the positives in their game. That doesn't mean we lose sight of the negatives in our personal game, because we are constantly fine-tuning the minor details to better ourselves individually and collectively. So, going into the next four weeks, preparing on all levels for Dubai/South Africa will be my focus.
Stay tuned as we press forward as a team striving for excellence. Expect minor changes in the team, because Coach Mags has a clear vision of where the team should be heading and will be eliminating anyone who is detracting from those team goals.