Fans don’t need an expert to tell them the USA 7s team had a terrible Wellington 7s. The Eagles went 0-5, and were shut out three times.
The other two games they had chances to win on a silver platter and squandered them. Notable in the Shield semifinal against Scotland, the Eagles were a man up and had a penalty in Scotland’s 22, and later had an attacking scrum just outside the Scottish 22. Both times they failed to score, losing 14-12.
Head Coach Al Caravelli worked hard to contain the frustration in his voice, but his words made it plain.
That penalty and that scrum, should have been tries, he said.
“We are having problems with execution,” he said. “We scored on one penalty play inside the 22 all weekend out of 8 or 9. Guys have to be on the same page and they’re not. When you make a line break, in a lot of traffic, don’t offload a 50-50 pass. We’re making those 50-50s and we’re losing those balls. We were inside the 22 several times against other teams – against South Africa we had three or four minutes of possession inside their 22 and came away with no points; same with England. Against Wales we were in their 22 a couple of times and couldn’t score. You can’t do that.”
Meanwhile, the USA was giving points away, dropping balls inside their own hall, turning the ball over because the support was slow or non-existent. It was a snowball – poor execution, players not playing together, and that forced penalty after penalty.
Caravelli could not even point to a progression of improvement, saying instead that the tournament was a rollercoaster.
“At certain points I thought we were doing a little better and at other times we didn’t,” he said. “We were very inconsistent.”
That inconsistency showed itself most obviously when the game was on the line. With the game still close against South Africa and England, the Americans tried to score in one movement, rather than be patient and use the ruck to their advantage. Against Wales they had myriad scoring opportunities, but couldn’t get out of their own way.
Against Cook Islands, they had a 22-14 lead with four minutes to go, and lost 22-26. Against Scotland they had those aforementioned game-winning platforms, and failed.
What now? Caravelli had a long talk with the players about playing together and to their attacking system. And he also emphasized that it all starts with defense. Make your tackles and you’re not backpedaling and giving up penalties.
“I think the defensive structure we’ve put in works,” he said. “Now we just need to get the right players to make those one-on-one tackles. If you are a veteran of over 20 appearances and you continue to make the same mistakes, It won’t be tolerated by your teammates or the coaching staff.”
And that’s the message: Do better or stay home.
Caravelli will bring in a large group of players for his camp this week leading up to Las Vegas. He doesn’t have to declare his squad until Thursday, and he’s going to take as long as he can.
Matt Hawkins is over the flu and ready to play. Tai Enosa is healthy now, Blaine Scully might also be, and Rocco Mauer is also available. And that’s just the start.
Meanwhile on the other side of the ledger, it’s easy to start making guesses and to who is in trouble. Mark Bokhoven, whose defense suffered this week, did not play at all against Scotland, and he wasn’t injured.
Folau Niua, certainly not a veteran and a player Caravelli wants to bring along, also didn’t play in that game. Roland Suniula got the majority of the time at flyhalf, while Colin Hawley played his first full, 14-minute game as a prop against Scotland and was probably the team’s best player in that game.
So the axe will swing this week, almost certainly. Matt Hawkins is almost sure to get in. A week ago it seemed like Garrett Bender, who stepped in when Hawkins became ill, would be replaced, but now one has to wonder.
And Tai Enosa might well be the tonic the backs need, while a healthy Blaine Scully gives the team all sorts of options.
It’s highly unlikely that youngsters such as Maka Unufe will be dropped. Unufe and Bender made some errors, but played well at times, too, and need time to develop.
But flying back to the USA from New Zealand is a 7s coach with a message for his players.
“Remember, we have guys back in Chula Vista waiting to make the team,” he said.