USA Eagles wrap up long Sevens campaign

Team USA played their last game of the international sevens season on Sunday. After a bruising Saturday in Scotland, the Eagles were set to face Kenya in the Emirates Airline Edinburgh Sevens Bowl Quarterfinals. A tight 15-17 loss to the Kenyans sent the USA to the Shield Semifinals. Russia would score a late try to pull away and eventually hang on to win, eliminating the Eagles from Shield Final contention.

In their 17 previous encounters, Kenya had won 10 games and they would increase that tally to 11 against the USA on Sunday. Undoubtedly the Kenyans had thoughts of the Eagles hoisting the Bowl in Adelaide after defeating Kenya 17-10. It would be the Americans who lost on Sunday though.

Shalom Suniula struck first against Kenya, showcasing his elusive side step and penetrating speed to score as the Kenyan fringe defense was a shambles after Paul Emerick plowed through the ruck and took two Kenyan defenders with him. However after the early Eagle strike, Kenya upped their intensity at the breakdown and were able to capitalize on American penalties. Read more of this post

Eagles struggle in London; New Zealand wins world sevens series

The London Sevens tournament was a rough one for the USA Eagles. In a tourney that saw New Zealand win its 9th World Sevens title – despite being knocked out in the semis by Fiji – the Eagles ended up losing in the Shield semi-final.

No points for the Eagles, who are now 11th in the standings.

But the Eagles Sevens can rightly feel a little miffed, after a  struggling England team were awarded a very dubious try that helped them to a win. Each of the Sevens tournaments has provided the Eagles with a signature win, this time it was a 22-21 victory over Argentina in Pool play. It could have been a very different tournament for the United States had the England game then gone the other way.

The later stages of the tournament were not kind to the Eagles, losing 14-0 against Spain in the Bowl quarterfinals. Thus dropped to the semifinals of  the Shield, the Eagles lost that game 21-15 to Portugal to head home empty handed.

Though the tournament was eventually won by South Africa, England’s elimination gave New Zealand an insurmountable point score with the Edinburgh Sevens tournament to come this weekend.

Adrian Pratt, U.S. Embassy Wellington

Rugby players can surprise you

By Adrian Pratt, US Embassy Wellington

By the time I moved to New Zealand, I’d been away from Rugby for a long time. In the intervening years, Rugby had turned professional and new leagues and competitions had been set up across the globe.

On our first weekend in Wellington, my boys – aged 14 and 11 – sat down to watch the All Blacks play the Springboks of South Africa. It was the first time they’d watched Rugby, and it was a mistake. The ferocity of the game, the bone-crunching tackles – not to mention the terrifying New Zealand haka – turned my boys quickly to thoughts of playing soccer.

Their self-preservation instinct was smart. The very physique of the players seemed to have changed. Back in my day, the guys were big, to be sure, but now they seemed massive and, as the expression goes, ripped. And then there was the attitude of the guys on the field. Rugby matches, put plainly, were fierce.

But then a funny thing happened: I met some of the players. First up were the USA Eagles Sevens players, some of whom play for the full national side as well. Having been exposed to plenty of sports stars in my life, I wasn’t precisely hopeful. A lot of sportsmen at the top of their game can be mono-syllabic, arrogant and have forgotten that what they do as a career is the stuff of dreams for millions of young people.

But, simply put, the Eagles were a delight. They were teeming with enthusiasm – about being in New Zealand, about playing for the United States, about Rugby. As we talked to them they were bubbling over with good cheer and polite, amusing banter. These guys were respectful, and nothing but great ambassadors for their country and their sport.

We admired that.

Surely this was an aberration. People performing so mercilessly on the field had to be barbarians. Just had to be.

But in the intervening months I’ve been exposed to a lot more Rugby players, including some All Blacks. I’ve been singularly impressed with their calm, polite and approachable demeanor. All of them. This week I ran across Rodney So’oialo and Victor Vito. I couldn’t have been more impressed. They too seemed to view themselves as good-will ambassadors for their sport and did a remarkable job. They showed interest when people approached them, engaged in casual and involved conversations.

In an age of spoiled-brat athletes – or worse – in fields as varied as soccer to motorsports, it is delightful to know that there are still role models out there. Who would have thought that I’d find them in Rugby, said to be a gentleman’s sport played by hooligans? These guys better be careful or else they might start getting a reputation. A good one. And, with the Rugby World Cup rapidly approaching, that’s a great thing of course.

Caravelli opts for experience in London, Edinburgh 7s

The last two tournaments of the HSBC Sevens World Series are approaching, and U.S. Coach Al Caravelli has opted for experience in his  team selection.

The London tournament, starting May 21, is up first, followed by Edinburgh from May 28-29.

And, according to Jerrod Beckstrom of USA Rugby, a departure from the typically young team picks for the final stops of the Series (often smattered with freshly out-of-school collegiate players), the 12-player squad he has named this year is steeped in speed, experience, size and physicality.

The only player in the squad from the college ranks is Cameron Dolan, the dominant eight man for Life University’s College Premier Division side who has been on Caravelli’s radar since Dolan was an Under-17 player.

“Cam is a unique kind of player,” said Caravelli of the 21-year-old Dolan. “He’s a true forward with the speed of a back. I’m excited to see him break onto the international scene.” 

Mike Palefau and Nese Malifa are back in top form according to their coach, and their considerable experience and expertise will be an asset to the team, if in limited capacity as they transition back to international rugby. The last time Malifa was with the squad was last year in Adelaide, when the USA played in its first-ever Cup final in Adelaide after beating England, Wales and Argentina. Palefau’s last time with the team was in 2009. Read more of this post

U.S. Sevens wins Adelaide Bowl

“We’ve had a couple of Shields and we said that we don’t want any more Shields. We want to walk away with points in the tournament,” said Al Caravelli.

“But more importantly, we got better as the week went on. We were trying to cut our turnovers and play a solid brand of defense, which we started to do.”

The coach also said the team is in good shape going to the last two tournaments in London and Edinburgh, Scotland.

The Eagles played themselves into a position to get Series points against Kenya in the Bowl Final and capitalized on it. Read more of this post

U.S. pipped at post in H.K. Bowl semis

HONG KONG – Japan defeated the USA 14-12 in the final minutes of the Hong Kong Sevens Bowl Semifinal and eliminated the Eagles from the tournament.

The Eagles had defeated Tonga 26-21 in the Bowl Quarterfinals to advance to the semifinal round.

Japan pulled an upset defeating Scotland in the Bowl Quarterfinals to earn a spot in the semis. Four of the last six matches the Eagles have played in the HSBC Sevens World Series have been against Japan, so the two sides knew one another very well. The USA also beat Japan in Shield Final at the USA Sevens in Las Vegas last month, something the Japanese were sure to remember.

Staunch Eagle defense and disciplined attack defined the first half for the USA and it looked to be going the way of the Eagles early.

Justin Boyd started the scoring, getting good ball at pace, sizing up the defense and slicing through two drifting defenders for a try. Boyd looked to be playing with plenty of confidence and was a threat the entire game. Read more of this post

U.S. squad named for Hong Kong

BOULDER, Colo. – The USA Men’s Sevens team departs Sunday for Hong Kong to take part in the fifth leg of the HSBC Sevens World Series. The team will face pool opponents Japan, China, and England on March 25.
Head coach Al Caravelli had several spots to fill due to injury, so the Hong Kong traveling squad sees three players being added to the fold.

Two new faces, Taylor Mokate and Peter Tiberio, hail from the collegiate ranks and a seasoned veteran in international fifteens and sevens, Todd Clever, joins the team.

A University of Oklahoma star, former USA Under-20/Junior All-American captain and two time Collegiate All-American, Mokate gets an official call up to Team USA after filling in for injured players in the USA Sevens last month in Las Vegas. Mokate is a hard-charging forward that is a threat in the air and set pieces. Read more of this post

U.S. gets figurehead back for Sevens

Todd Clever, (AP Photo/Nousha Salimi)

Todd Clever, (AP Photo/Nousha Salimi)

Todd Clever, the bushy-haired and wild-eyed leader of the U.S. 15s, is returning for Sevens duty for the Hong Kong tournament.

Clever plays professional Rugby in Japan for Suntory. That season is now finished.

It’s been just under two years since Clever last donned a red, white and blue Sevens shirt for the U.S. The jump between the two games is not an easy one. The speed, individuality and pure fitness level required for Sevens means the needed adjustment is both physical and mental.

Still, having Clever’s energy and fiery leadership back with the team – even if he plays only a few minutes – is bound to ignite his teammates.

The Hong Kong tournament, long one of the most festive and widely supported IRB Sevens dates, runs from March 25 to March 27.

The U.S., which has claimed the Shield in its last two tournaments – in Wellington and Las Vegas – will face pool play games against England, Japan and China.

Draw for Hong Kong Sevens

The U.S. Eagle will face pool play against England, China and Japan in the Hong Kong Sevens tournament, March 25-27.

The Hong Kong tournament, one of the crown jewels of the IRB circuit, is the only competition to host 24 teams, so extra points are available.

New Zealand, which is currently tied with England at the top of the table on 80 points, will face France, Portugal and Korea in their pool.

The U.S., with six points, is currently in 11th place after four rounds of the eight round, worldwide tournament. After Hong Kong, the teams will meet in Australia, England and Scotland, where the tournament will culminate May 28-29.

Paddy O’Brien: Welcome, U.S.A. Eagles

Editor’s note: Paddy O’Brien is a New Zealand international rugby union referee and currently the head of the International Rugby Board’s Referee Board. He recently wrote this piece about the upcoming Rugby World Cup 2011 for us:

Paddy O'Brien, head of IRB's Referee Board, BBC photo

Paddy O'Brien, head of IRB's Referee Board, BBC photo

It will a great day in New Plymouth on September 11th when that city hosts Ireland and USA in their opening games of RWC 2011. A number of features stand out. September 11 is a significant date in that it will be the 10th anniversary of the attack on America by Al Qaeda: the U.S. Eagles are coached by the man who led Ireland into the 2007 World Cup, Eddie O’Sullivan; and USA, the last Olympic Rugby Champions (1924), will have to be all out to hold a team ranked several places ahead of them on the IRB rankings.

Whilst most people associate the USA with gridiron, it is fair to say Rugby Union is becoming stronger each year in a country which we all know produces wonderful athletes. Whilst I have never refereed USA in the 15s form of the game I have witnessed them on the IRB Sevens circuit and the passion and power they show in this form of the game is outstanding. Their Sevens coach, Al Caravelli, is a real character who lives and breathes the game and the improvement they have shown since the series began is immense.

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