If the USA men’s 7s team turns things around and makes the Cup Quarterfinals at the Nelson Mandela Bay 7s this weekend, it won’t have been the first time they rebounded in a week.
In fact, last season, they did it twice, going from Shield Winners in Dubai to top eight in South Africa, and then from last place in Wellington to top eight in Las Vegas. But in those two instances they needed a bit of luck. In South Africa they had something of an easy pool (in relative terms) and in Las Vegas three teams ended up 1-2, and the USA won through on points difference.
But Cup Quarterfinals are Cup Quarterfinals, regardless of the path taken to get there, and this week, the Eagles do actually have a chance to sneak through. Their pool, Pool C, isn’t easy – none is in this event – but it’s competitive, rather than mismatched, and that’s what the USA needs. Don’t expect them to beat New Zealand, but Wales and Portugal, while ranked ahead of the Eagles at the moment, are always beatable.
The USA is generally a bit more athletic than Wales, and usually the game between the two are very close (great, now watch Wales win in a blowout now that we’ve said it).
The teams met five times in 2012-2013 (average would be 3 or 4), with Wales winning four. But all but one of those games were decided by a try or less, and the other one was an eight-point win by Wales when they scored right at the end of the game.
And that, actually, is the message against Wales – finishing the game. In the five games against Wales last season, the Eagles gave up a try in the final 30 seconds four times. One of those ended up a USA victory anyway, but in the other three, the USA was either ahead, tied, or had the ball and in position to win. One ended on an interception with no time left.
So against Wales, how about finishing the game? How about concentrating mentally all the way to the end? And in addition, remember this – when the hooter goes off, it doesn’t mean you have no time left, it means you have all the time in the world; keep the ball, don’t make mistakes, and be patient, and you can play forever to get that try. Get a penalty called against the other team? Don’t rush your tap – make sure your guys are with you. After the hooter, the game can go on forever if you let it.
When Portugal wins against the USA it’s because they are more physical, and exploit the space that physicality creates.
The Eagles countered that very well in Gold Coast by moving the ball aggressively and making Portugal run. The result was Portugal kept giving up stupid penalties, and the USA won 22-0. They have to do the same this time.
Can they? Well, it’s about mental resiliency as much as anything else. When you see players out of position, it’s because they lost concentration (usually). When you see one player make a great cover tackle, what you need to see also is more defenders cutting off the passing channels, and getting back onside. Demoralized teams don’t do this.
“In Gold Coast we started off badly but we regrouped on the second day and won the Shield, and that was a big thing for us,” USA Coach Matt Hawkins told RUGBYMag.com. “But we didn’t rebound in Dubai. We couldn’t turn it around and that was disappointing to us. Now we’ve had a week to work it out.”
So it could happen, and if it does it will be because the players as a unit are more mentally switched on. If it doesn’t happen, then some serious questions need to be asked about the lineup and the approach. Last season’s finish has us all expecting more.
Notes: The USA will start the Nelson Mandela Bay 7s against Wales at 11:22AM local time Friday.
That's 1:22AM PT, 4:22AM ET.
Then they play New Zealand at 4:06AM PT/7:06AM ET.
Then they take on Portugal 7:14AM PT/ 10:14AM ET.
Webstream? We have big news coming in a few minutes on that.