Canada defeated the USA 29-21 Saturday in Guadalajara to win Pool B of the Pan-Am Games Rugby 7s competition, but the USA has plenty to feel positive about coming out of a game where, considering the previous scores of the day, they might have expected a bit of a drubbing.
In fact, the Eagles led 14-10 at halftime, and showed better defense and some smart attacking acumen – only a couple of silly errors meant that the game ended in Canada’s favor.
The Eagles started the game on the front foot, but after a series of phases they turned the ball over in the ruck. Canada’s Sean Duke saw that no one was home in the backfield and booted the ball downfield. Mark Bokhoven gave chase, but Duke won.
However the Eagles stormed right back. Working out of their own end Folau Niua made a half break and saw his passing laned blocked. The flyhalf put a nifty grubber ahead for Mile Pulu, who gathered the bouncing ball on the run and went in under the posts. Niua’s kick was easy and the USA led 7-5.
Soon it was 14-5. The Eagles won the restart, worked it right, and then worked it left where Maka Unufe burst through almost to the line. From the ground he offloaded to Niua, who scored his first try in a USA jersey.
Canada exploited a hole in the USA defense for Nathan Hirayama to break through. He was caught just short of the line, but Ciaran Hearn was there to score in the corner.
The second half started with the USA receiving the ball, but suddenly their ability to control the balls kicked to them left them. Canada retained the kick and Phil Mack sliced through for a try.
Then on the next restart, the ball didn’t go ten meters. However, the USA’s Blaine Scully opted to take the ball anyway. He dropped it, so instead of a free kick for the USA at midfield, Canada had a turnover, and they quickly scored.
“Our standard is that if it’s not ten, let it drop and take the free kick,” said USA Head Coach Al Caravelli. “But players are told that if they feel they can take it cleanly, then do it. Had Blaine made that catch he would have been able to keep running and everyone would have said ‘what a great decision.’”
Still, it stung, and the next restart once again fell to Canadian hands and quickly to Nanyak Dala, who scored to make it 29-14.
Even the next restart the USA couldn’t gather, but they earned a scrum near their own line. From there they got a free kick and started their way forward, with some excellent ball movement resulting in Mark Bokhoven rounding in under the posts.
“We weren’t tackling the first two games,” said Caravelli of his players. “They had to get back to the fundamentals; put your shoulder into them, and drive your legs. They did that this game.”
The Eagles were hurt all through Day One by not having enough ball. They were far and away the fastest team, and the players were superbly unselfish with the ball. Maka Unufe was the beneficiary of much of that largesse.
“It’s a team thing,” Unufe said. “It’s what everyone has done to get me to score. But, yeah, we feel like we can always score.”
“We haven’t gotten much ball,” added Caravelli. “We need to fix that tomorrow. We need to clean up some of our defensive assignments. In the first two games we did some things we’ve never done before.”
Tries: Pulu, Niua, Bokhoven
Tries: Duke 2, Hearn, Mack, Dala
Convs: Hirayama 2
The USA is 1-1-1 having beaten Chile 14-7 and tied Brazil 19-19. Brazil also ended 1-1-1 however lose out on 2nd place in the pool due to points difference. So Pool B ends up:
The USA, then, will face either Guyana or Mexico in the quarterfinals on Sunday.