USA Sevens Men

Written by Alex Goff    Saturday, 08 February 2014 02:19    PDF Print Write e-mail
Eagle Youngsters SHine - Was Plan All Along
Sevens - USA Sevens Men

Matt Hawkins, when he took the USA 7s team job, said he wanted competition for places.

When he started a bunch of new guys, he said there was no point in putting youngsters on the team, if you weren't going to play him.

Pono Haitsuka seems to know how to run support lines. Ian Muir photo.When he picked Danny Barrett for Las Vegas and we asked him if Barrett started the first game on merit only, or to get him on the field early, Hawkins said merit, sure, but also, if you've got a new guy, get him on the field and play him, and see what he can do.

Agree or disagree with Hawkins, but acknowledge that he has been consistent. He plays the youngsters, and he wants them to succeed, so he can put veterans in a situation of being worried about losing their jobs.

So in the final two games of the Wellington 7s, Nick Edwards, Andrew Durutalo, Folau Niua, and Shalom Suniula joined young player Ryan Matyas on the bench. Total IRB tournaments for those five players? 103.

Starting for the Eagles in those games was Zack Test, Danny Barrett, Garrett Bender, Brett Thompson, Carlin Isles, Pono Haitsuka, and Madison Hughes. Total tournaments for those seven players? 70, and 40 of those were for Test.

And yet, the USA team played better. Why? Bender has exploded in the last few weeks, after playing really well for the USA Falcons in Vegas. He is tall, powerful, aggressive, and decided he is fine clearing out in rucks and winning balls in the air. Barrett is a bit risky at times, but he is aggressive and is not afraid to challenge defenders. Isles is learning the game (more on him later in this piece). Haitsuka is fast, and a very good support runner. Thompson is smart, aggressive, an excellent defender, and unselfish. Hughes is an extremely smart and skilled player who doesn't give up on tackles and can beat defenders.

We know Test is a great player, and in fact played better with this group than with the veterans. Meanwhile, when they came on, the older players looked a little lost. Edwards ran into way, way too much contact. Durutalo was effective in the rucks, but Niua seemed less sure of himself than Haitsuka.

And Isles ... we've been calling for it for months now - pass him the ball. The young players don't seem to have any baggage connected to passing to Isles. It could be that the older players think "it can't be that simple that we just pass to the fast guy and he scores, right?" It is, and the younger players are less likely to question it.

"I've said Carlin's a great athlete but he has to become a better rugby player, so we've tried to develop with him and he;'s put in more time. He's developing and growing in leaps and bounds and it's fantastic to see," Hawkins said.

In the Shield Final, won by the USA over Spain 28-12 (after they beat Portugal 31-10), Isles not only scored two tries, he chased down and gathered a grubber kick to save a try, making sure he delayed going into contact long enough for his support to get there. He was caught in one movement and successful passed off to a looping Test for a try. He filled in repeatedly at scrumhalf and passed just fine.

In other words, he did more than just run fast.

Perhaps that has sent the message to everyone as Isles, who started every game and played 14 minutes most of the time, scored six tries. The performance of Thompson, who may well be the team's most consistent presence, is also something to celebrate. Bender is getting there, and Hughes, whose offensive skills should not overshadow his hard work on defense, is just getting started.

This was the idea from the start.

"This was the plan all along to get more guys playing rugby and get more guys on the field

We are making progress," said Hawkins after the Wellington Shield Final. "The guys are playing some good rugby; we just need to learn to finish. We've got a lot of youngsters and we're bringing in new guys the whole time. And that's the whole plan. We need to condition more guys. We need to create more depth for our squad.  It's exciting to see the young guys come through and they're finishing. We're getting to the point where we're getting to a final and actually winning it."

This is not a situation where the coach desperately threw the newbs out onto the field and lo and behold they won; Hawkins has been consistent in playing the young players, throwing them into the deep end, or to the wolves. He is prepared to trade some losses now for victories later, and it seems he is confident that the team will not be relegated.

Will it work? Well, it's a plan, and judging from Wellington, it wasn't the youngsters who were the problem.

Written by Alex Goff    Saturday, 08 February 2014 02:02    PDF Print Write e-mail
Four Tries Garner USA the Shield
Sevens - USA Sevens Men

The USA beat Spain 28-12 at the Wellington 7s to win their second-straight Shield and inch a little closer to ensuring they won't be relegated come the end of the season.

Isles scored two of his six in the Shield Final. Dobson Images.The Eagles tackled well and with physicality, and once again it was the younger and newer players who led the way, with a little help from Zack Test. Carlin Isles was set free in a way we've rarely seen, scoring twice to take his tournament total to six.

Things didn't look good early, as Spain exploited a couple of USA mistakes and after a long period of play, booted the ball into the cornerwhere the Americans looked too tired to chase. Francisco Hernandez did chase, and not only scored in the corner, but made the touchline conversion.

Things looked even worse when Spain grubbered through again. Isles, though, ran in, gathered the ball, and saved things. After a nice, bullocking run from Bender, the Eagles recycled and Test booted the ball deep and into touch.

It turned out to be a smart move. Spain overthrew their lineout put-in, and Barrett gathered, and sent it wide. Test fed Isles, who was caught, but Test looped around and the all-time top USA try-scorer scored another one, going wide and then curving around under the posts.

That tied the game at 7-7, and while the USA had a shot at scoring another, the half ended with the score tied.

But not for long. On the kickoff for the second half, the USA recycled quickly and sent hands out to Isles, who just curved around his defender and raced 80 meters for the try and a 14-7 lead.

Quickly it was 21-7. Bender won the restart and after a good ball rescue from Hughes, Isles fed Brett Thompson, who fended off two players and then popped the ball to a trailing Pono Haitsuka, who showed a clean pair of heels and scored under the posts.

Spain almost got a try back. A kick ahead gave them a chance and Isles chased after it. Remembering being shouldered off the ball against Canada, he looked to secure his line of run against Spain, and of course was penalized. But good, strong tackling forced a knock-on.

The Eagles could not avoid penalty trouble in the ruck, though, and after stealing a lineout throw they got pinged again, giving up a try. The conversion was crucially missed by Hernandez, however, and the score was 21-12 to the USA.

Spain were a mile offside on the restart but weren't called, however they were called later on, and that led to a USA try. After a couple of runs through contact by Nick Edwards, Isles sent a bad pass to no one. Test recovered, fed Andrew Durutalo, who fended on, ran down the wing, and then popped inside to Isles, who did the rest. The simple move of committing a defender and then actually passing to Isles - not surprisingly - worked.

That made it 28-12, and while Spain had one more shot, Durutalo stole the ball and the USA kicked the ball to touch.

Once again it's hardware for the USA. Once again it's the Shield, which is not as good as the Bowl, Plate, or Cup, but better than a sharp stick in the eye.

The performance - 2-3-1 in Wellington - was tinged with worry for fans as Isles had said he was done with rugby.

But after the game, Isles sang a different tune.

"We're pleased," said Isles. "The Shield isn't where we wanted to go but we're happy to win and we can build on it. [For me] I'm having a heck of a time. I love it and I love rugby. Of course I'm going to be in Tokyo, rugby's a blessing to me."

USA 28
Tries: Isles 2, Test, Haitsuka
Convs: Hughes 3, Niua

Spain 12
Tries: Hernandez, Tudela
Convs: Hernandez

Written by Alex Goff    Friday, 07 February 2014 22:55    PDF Print Write e-mail
Do the Madison - Hughes Sparks Win Over Portugal
Sevens - USA Sevens Men

The USA Men's 7s team is into the Shield Final once more as they defeated Portugal 31-10 in the Wellington 7s Saturday.

Hughes in his debut tournament has been decisive and explosive. Ian Muir photo.Madison Hughes once again was the USA's most electric player, scoring two tries and making some other smart plays, while Brett Thompson and Garrett Bender both showed well.

Head Coach Matt Hawkins named a young starting lineup, with Danny Barrett joining Bender and Thompson in the forwards, Hughes at scrumhalf, Pono Haitsuka at flyhalf, Zack Test at center, and Carlin Isles at wing. Veterans Nick Edwards, Folau Niua, Andrew Durutalo, and Shalom Suniula were all on the bench, and none saw much time.

The result was a hard-working performance where the Eagles still gave away far too many penalties in the ruck, but they made a lot of tackles, and realized that passing to players in space is actually a good thing.

Isles contributed two long-range tries, a few minutes from each other, putting aside criticism that he can't make two long runs in a short period.

Bender started the game by doing well to rescue the kickoff before it went into touch, and after a long period with the ball, the Eagles saw Test beat a couple of defenders and then dish to the scampery Hughes, who toasted his markers and went in for the try.

Isles and Haitsuka helped set up Barrett for a long run, but the forward was stopped just short and penalized for holding on. Portugal tried to make something of that but the USA tackling was too good. A brilliant cover tackle from Thompson forced a turnover and then Hughes took the ball, fed Bender, who set up Haitsuka for a coast-to-coast try and a 10-0 lead.

USA fans got something to cheer about in Wellington. Martin Seras Lima photo.Another nifty run from Test set up Hughes for his second, and his conversion made it 17-0 at halftime.

All of these tries owed a little to Bender's ability to clear Portuguese ruckers off the ball.

In the second half, the Eagles and Portugal were sloppy. Eventually, though, Isles, who had not seen the ball with much space, picked from the back of the ruck, beat a couple of tacklers, and blazed 90 meters to score and make it 24-0. Portugal scored right after (although it appeared that Hughes appeared out of nowhere to hold the ball up), but then hands out to Isles, who want 80 to score.

Portugal scored at the death, but this was all USA, and it was all the youngsters. Thompson is fast becoming the USA's best player, Bender is a mighty presence and a much improved player from his first stint with the USA, and Hughes looked very much at home on the field.

The Eagles, if they play this well, should have little trouble with Spain in the Shield Final. Spain looked poor against a poor Tonga team, beating the Tongans in the Shield semifinal 17-12 in overtime.

USA 31
Tries: Hughes 2, Isles 2, Haitsuka
Convs: Hughes 3

Portugal 10
Tries: Guedes, Marques

Written by Pat Clifton    Friday, 07 February 2014 20:37    PDF Print Write e-mail
Eagles Beat at Death, On to Shield Semis
Sevens - USA Sevens Men

For the fourth time in six tournaments, the Eagles are playing for the Shield. The USA conceded a converted try at the death to lose 14-12 to France in the Wellington Bowl Quarterfinals.

The contest started with both teams content to kick for territory, and both teams swapping penalties and turnovers for the first four minutes.

Then great kick to touch from Madison Hughes following a French penalty got the Eagles on the right side of the field, and another French penalty saw Danny Barrett toe through the ball, take on two tacklers and spin past them for the opening try. Hughes slotted the conversion to put the USA up 7-0.

Danny Barrett scored two. Dobson Images.The French struck right back after the Eagles committed a flurry of penalties. The Eagles couldn’t retreat quickly enough and hold their pattern, and Steeve Barry crossed for the score. Converted, France tied the game at 7-7.

Barrett’s second score was the best of his young international 7s career. Again off a penalty, this time deep in the American end, he went straight at the French defense. He then stiff armed one would-be tackler, stepped just over the other’s reach and trucked about 80 meters to extend the lead to 12-7 going into halftime.

Pono Haitsuka’s kick to restart the second half didn’t go 10 meters, giving France a free kick at midfield. France was moving the ball well, but Barrett delivered again with a big tackle on the wing, ending the threat and turning the ball over. Hobbled, Barrett subbed off for a fresh Andrew Durutalo.

The Eagles kept conceding penalties, but inspired defense also kept stymieing France’s efforts to capitalize.

With just seconds left in the game and the lead, the Eagles found themselves with a lineout in their own end, and the referee prevented them from entering the lineout in the delayed fashion they prefer. The Eagles then lost that lineout, and France scored the tying try shortly thereafter. Pual Albaladejo’s conversion kick with time expired saw the French advance to the Bowl Semifinals.

Of the Americans, Madison Hughes was the most electric, while Isles was controlled somewhat. But all of the players seemed to have little idea of what to do come ruck time. They were pinged repeatedly for being offside and diving over, while prime poaching opportunities were passed up because the USA players seemed unsure if they were legal or not.

USA 12
Tries: Barrett 2
Convs: Hughes

France 14
Tries: Barry, Candelon
Convs: Barry, Albaladejo

The Eagles will play Portugal in the Shield Semifinals at 10:32pm ET.

Written by Pat Clifton    Friday, 07 February 2014 01:45    PDF Print Write e-mail
USA Lets Win Slip Away Against Scotland
Sevens - USA Sevens Men

The United States finished day one at Wellington winless with a 19-19 tie with Scotland. The Eagles boasted a 14-0 lead in the first half, but an injury time score from Scotland jump started a comeback.

Carlin Isles kicked off the scoring with a bizarre try. He ran backwards and sideways, but found enough space on the outside of Scotland’s defense. Once in the open field, he cut back against the sweeper and scored easily.

The Eagles put their second try on the board immediately following the restart. The USA won the kickoff, Isles passed to Madison Hughes, who put Nick Edwards into a hole he exploited for five more points.

Scotland nearly got on the board when the Eagles were caught without a sweeper, but Nick Edwards showed some good recovery speed and forced the Scots to fly kick the ball through in-goal.

Scotland then caught a break when Danny Barrett kicked the ball away after being harshly called for offside and received a yellow card. Mark Robertson chose to toe through the ball from five meters out and burrow into the try zone, but Hughes did well to hold the ball up. The USA defense finally broke when the Eagles were called for a penalty at the ensuing scrum and Andrew Turnbull quickly ran in. The touch line conversion was missed, leaving the Eagles up 14-5.

The USA was awarded a lineout straight off the kickoff, and they swung the ball wide to Nick Edwards at midfield. He had Isles with space to his outside, but chose to take contact instead of pass, lost the ball and Scotland scored seconds later. The successful conversion closed the difference to two at 14-12.

Scotland sent the next restart straight into touch, and the Eagles would take advantage. Isles made the initial line break before being bottle up. The ball was recycled, and Danny Barrett charged forward and offloaded to Pono Haitsuka, who found Hughes for the score. The very makeable conversion was missed by Folau Niua, keeping Scotland within a converted try at 19-12.

Sloppy defensive structure and some missed tackles, two from Niua, saw Andrew Turnbull score what would be the leveling try when converted.

Scotland won the ensuing restart, lost the ball forward, stole it back against the head and eventually kicked a penalty to touch to end the game in a tie. Because of a better point differential, the tie was good enough to see Scotland finish third in the pool and the USA fourth. The Eagles will now move to the Bowl Quarterfinals, where they’ll likely meet France at 8:05pm ET Friday.

USA 19
Tries: Isles, Edwards, Hughes
Cons: Hughes 2

Scotland 19
Tries: Turnbull 2, Glashan
Cons: Gregor 2


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