The USA men’s 7s team is in Port Elizabeth now shaking off the frustration of a 1-4 Dubai 7s performance.
It was frustrating, but not because they were outmatched. They were not. The Eagles were in a position to beat Australia, and gave up a late try to lose by seven. They were in a position to beat France, but lost by three. After being beaten 26-7 by Canada, they beat Spain 14-12, and were in a position to beat South Africa, down 15-14 with time winding down. They lost 22-14.
It was a winnable pool, where they finished 0-3. Head Coach Alex Magleby had warned before the tournament that getting caught up in wins and losses isn’t a good idea with this team right now.
“Like we discussed beforehand, we are not out of the woods yet,” said Magleby after Dubai. “That comes from consistently doing the right behaviors in training under pressure, all the time, well before we hit the match environment.”
Still, the team knows the victories are close.
“Obviously we are disappointed that we are right there and didn't force the Ws,” said the USA coach. “I thought the team improved throughout the tournament, and showed more character than in the Gold Coast. That is most important and has to come first if we are to build a championship consistent team.”
Some players struggled under pressure, and deviated from the plan of play as a result. But, added Magleby, getting burned for those decisions is part of the learning experience. This Eagles team needs to work as a unit to score tries, and working as a unit is never a bad thing anyway.
“We didn't have the band-aid of a couple of quality strike runners, so it really is a good opportunity to force the guys to learn to grind through a whole match,” said Magleby. “We don't have 7 guys on the pitch at the moment who are going to break out a long try. It'll take a lot of connecting - passes, rucks, possession management with this group.”
And to get that all a little bit better (which will be enough, likely, to bump them over to the winning side in a couple of games, surely), they have a week.
Looking back, the Eagles usually scored tries when they were successful in traditional aspects of play, such as running onto sharp passes and hitting gaps. They were successful when they made their tackles. They were unsuccessful when they tried to get a little too cute with the passes, and when they fell off tackles.
Looking at the ref, and not the ball, when there’s a penalty against you is a great way to give up a try. So is not putting your should in on a tackle.
Looking ahead, the delightful weirdness of this year’s standings means that the USA is again in a pool where victory in every game is a real expectation, despite their recent record.
The Eagles are against up against Canada, along with Portugal and Zimbabwe. It’s a gift for the USA to be in this group, and success there could be a nice confidence boost.
Notes: The IRB World Series has been very unpredictable so far this year. In two tournaments only five teams have made the Cup Round twice – New Zealand, Fiji, Kenya, Samoa, and France. Six teams have been in the Cup Round at least once, and we’ve seen teams like Australia come last, and teams like England playing for the Shield.
The USA is ranked 15th because they have been near the bottom twice in a row. The Eagles, Spain, Scotland and, amazingly, England have all failed to make the Cup Round both times this season.