Flying the eight million-hour flight from Brisbane to Dubai, every coach on the IRB Sevens World Series is examining his team and looking for ways to improve.
Where did we succeed? Where did we fail? What improvement, installed over a few short days before the Dubai 7s, will bring the biggest bang for your buck?
USA Head Coach Al Caravelli’s job in this regard isn’t that hard.
Yes, yes, dropping the ball in the opponent’s 22 is bad, and missing a tackle here and there is bad. But really there are two things the Eagles could fix right now and completely turn around some games: support running, and restarts.
Support Running: The Eagles seemed to play at times as if they’re back at the Pan-Am Games. It was a good thing, certainly, that at the Pan-Ams they were able to get to ball to a back and watch him go 60, 70, 80 meters for a try.
But in the World Series, you have to get on your horse and follow that guy, because there are fast men on the opposing team who can catch him. Too often, a player was on his own and ended up turning the ball over or giving up a penalty.
That is not about fitness, it’s about being mentally prepared to do what you need to do. When you think the play is over, then you don’t anticipate being needed. By the time you realize that you should be in support, it’s too late. That’s what’s happening to the USA team. They need to think support immediately, and need to adhere to one of the basic tenets of 7s rugby – follow your pass. Games were won and lost on this alone.
Restarts. The USA has two outstanding restart men in Shalom Suniula and Foalu Niua. However, neither was consistent in their kickoffs.
Ideally, the kickoff goes just about ten meters and it high enough for Zack Test or Mark Bokhoven to get under it and catch it in the air. Ideally. But that didn’t always happen. Four times the USA tried that and either pushed the kicks into touch on the full, or the ball didn’t go ten meters. Either way, that turns the game from USA ball going forward into the opposition half, into a free kick for the other team.
On a fifth occasion, Suniula opted to send a kick to the right, where Nick Edwards was relatively unmarked, so the wing could score a quick try. That kickoff, also, failed to go ten meters.
It’s hard to quantify those five restart errors . The opposition didn’t score every time they got the free kick at center, but they did score three times. The Eagles, had they garnered possession, or, at the very least, been able to pin their opposition down, might have claimed two or three tries from better restarts.
So that’s a series of mistakes worth possibly 25-42 points, depending on variables and conversions. It could have completely changed the complexion of their game against Scotland, and likewise against Australia.
Small comfort, perhaps, but the USA can improve greatly without fancy plays or any other complex solution, if they just get their kickoffs to land infield and past ten meters, and if they start following their passes.
Fiji's Sevens stars responded to the hopes and dreams of a nation by beating reigning HSBC Sevens World Series champions New Zealand in the final of the Gold Coast Sevens 26-12 to take an early lead in the new season.
The Fijians travel to Dubai next weekend for round two of the Series with 22 points, three clear of New Zealand and five ahead of third-placed South Africa.
After emotional anthems, Fiji's inspirational 33-year-old captain Setefano Cakau set the tone for a superb final when he threw a dummy and raced 50 meters to put his side into a 7-0 lead.
Cakau left the field injured before half time, and not before Tomasi Cama had cut the deficit to two points and then put New Zealand 12-7 ahead when he set up an attacking move and then latched onto Tim Mikkelson's raking run to score his second before half time.
After the break the Fijians lost a further key player in Osea Kolinisau but they levelled when Joeli Lutumailagi raced clear to score, and a minute later they turned over the ball in New Zealand's 22 and found Emosi Vucago in space to lead 19-12.
Watisoni Votu crossed to cap a thrilling attacking build-up and the Fijians led 26-12, a lead they held onto until the final whistle sparked mass celebration.
Earlier New Zealand had beaten hosts Australia 26-7 with Cama scoring twice and Fiji had beaten South Africa 24-7 with tries from Jimilai Naikadawa, Osea Kolinisau, Setefano Cakau and Emosi Vucago.
South Africa did recover, though, to beat Australia in the new play-off for third place 17-5 with tries from Chris Dry, Johannes Prinsloo and Paul Delport.
Young Welsh too strong for Samoa in Plate
A young Welsh sqaud defeated Samoa 26-15 in the Plate final to collect 13 Series points. Richard Habberfield crossed twice in the victory as Paul John's side recovered from their Cup quarter-final defeat to Fiji to life the Plate.
Wales' semi-final was a physical encounter, which they won 14-12 against France as Habberfield and Richard Smith both scored tries in the victory.
Samoa also encounter a bruising semi-final which they edged 17-14 against England.
Paul Perez began the scoring with Samoa's first two tries either side of a Mat Turner effort. Taulagi Afamasaga extended the lead before Turner's second gave England a glimmer of hope, but Stephen Betham's men held on.
Los Pumas win three to lift Bowl on day two
Argentina defeated Scotland 17-14 to lift the Bowl title and collect eight Series points thanks to Manuel Montero's sixth and seventh tries of the weekend.
Earlier Los Pumas defeated Tonga 24-15, which included a great individual effort from Agustin Migliore out wide to secure the victory, and Scotland beat USA 19-5 with Ross Miller crossing twice in the semi-finals.
Nicolas Fernandez Lobbe's side had come from 12-7 behind to eventually beat Japan 38-12 in the quarter-finals thanks to two tries from Javier Ortega Desio, whilst a James Fleming hat-trick helped Scotland beat Niue 36-0.
USA ended the Bowl quarter-finals with their 24-5 victory against Papua New Guinea including two tries from Nick Edwards while Tonga beat Kenya in the day's first match 7-5 to set up their semi-final against Argentina.
PNG claim Shield Shane Howarth's Papua New Guinea beat Japan 31-19 in the Shield final to collect three Series points, and lift the first silverware of the new Series.
Papua New Guinea reached the final after a 38-0 victory against Niue thanks to 16 points (two tries and three conversions) from Albert Levi.
Japan booked their place in the Shield final after Katsuyuki Sakai snatched a dramatic last minute 19-14 victory against core side Kenya.
St. Mary's (RUGBYMag #1) takes on #3 BYU in a rematch of the game St. Mary's won Feb 15.Kickoff is at Noon Pacific Time, 1pm Mountain Time, 2pm Central, 3pm Eastern.Full live webstream here. Read more...
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