South Africa beat the USA 33-5 in the Gold Coast 7s, and while it seems strange to make this claim, the Eagles had every chance to win this game.
A disastrous second half when they could win any restart - all of which were kicked to them - destroyed what looked like a winnable game at halftime.
The Eagles retained their kickoff to start the game and did brilliantly to keep the ball and patiently test the South Africa defense in the opening minutes. Finally, from a penalty Tai Enosa tapped quickly and fed Matt Hawkins cutting in on a smart line. Hawkins was hit twice, but shoved the tacklers away, with Mike Palefau helping him a little, and scored the opening try.
South Africa got the ball on the restart and pushed into USA territory. But excellent defense turned the ball over for the USA. Then began a series of sins of impatience for the Americans. Luke Hume tried to do too much as he ran out of his 22, was isolated, and the subsequent turnover led to an easy try for Tshotsho Mbovane. That sequence carried additional bad news for the USA, as Shalom Suniula was taken off, and Carlin Isles replaced him.
The USA had a shot at another try, and had a three-on-one. But it wasn't a fast three-on-one, and Zack Test was caught in the corner. The Eagles got a lineout but lost it on a bad throw-in.
Near the end of the first half, Hume zipped his way up the sideline. He seemed once again to try to go a little too far. He was hit as he tried to pass inside. Had the pass been catchable, Hawkins or Isles were there to make it pay. Instead the half ended 7-5 South Africa.
Even though the Eagles looked poised to challenge South Africa in the second half, their play was curious. They brought on Isles, who is extremely quick, and then refused to pass him the ball. Head Coach Alex Magleby wants his team to be more physical, but not to the point of single players cutting back into three tacklers when he had support outside.
And then the wheels fell of. At halftime Magleby told his players "possession is everything." And so the USA proceeded to give it away. They ran into contact on the first kickoff, and got tied up in a maul. Scrum for South Africa, the defense keyed on star Cecil Afrika, newly on to the field, so Branco du Preez ran in untouched. 14-5.
The next kickoff was lost forward, and just like that Chris Dry was on the loose ball and in. Conversion off the posts. 19-5.
The next restart was lost in contact as the Blitz Bokke blitzed in, and Kyle Brown said thank you very much. 26-5.
Then another example of a player getting held up in a maul. This time, at least, South Africa needed a couple of phases to score. Paul Delport straightening the attack to go in under the posts. 33-5.
Finally the Eagles got the ball and kept it, and immediately Tai Enosa was away. But in the end they weren't strong enough in the tackle to make the ball available, and the game ended on another unsuccessful maul. South Africa were clinical, but the USA will have to know that they squandered two very good scoring chances in the first half, and wrapped up three tries in a pretty little bow in the second half as a gift to South Africa.
South Africa 33
Tries: Mbovane, du Preez, Dry, Brown, Delport
Convs: du Preez 4
USA Starters: Mike Palefau, Shalom Suniula, Zack Test, Matt Hawkins, Luke Hume, Tai Enosa, Maka Unufe
Subs used: Carlin Isles, Mike Teo, Brett Thompson, Rocco Mauer, Peter Dahl