Rugby News & Views From an American Perspective
It’s almost time ladies and gentlemen. The biggest event on the American rugby calendar is nearly upon us. To add to the excitement, for the first time ever, the tournament will take place in Las Vegas.
With record advance ticket sales, the USA 7’s stop on the IRB Circuit should break new ground with attendance levels for the two day tournament.
As with every tournament, the draws are always tough. Pushovers are becoming more and more scarce on the IRB Circuit and the USA’s draw for Las Vegas is as tough as they come. The USA find themselves in a pool with the always dangerous Fiji, the currently underperforming South Africa, and our nemesis to the north, Canada.
The USA starts the day with Fiji. Currently in second place on the series and just four points behind New Zealand, Fiji is the epitome of a sevens team. They are fast, powerful, and explosive with plenty of flash on the side. The USA is 2-9 all time against Fiji and have been outscored an average of 34-10 in those games.
Next up for the USA is South Africa. Fresh off of winning the IRB Series last year, South Africa has struggled and fallen to 7th place on the circuit this season. Regardless, they are still a very good team and have managed to reach the quarterfinals in every tournament this season. The USA has never beaten South Africa with an 0-14 all time record to show for it.
The USA’s final pool opponent is Canada and it is a must win game for the USA. Not because a trip to the quarterfinals may be on the line, but because it is Canada and the game is being played on American soil. Going 0-3 in pool play is bad enough, but to go winless and lose to Canada on home soil will haunt this team for a long time. The USA has a 7-9 record in IRB Series play against Canada and the two teams have played each other tough each step of the way.
So, how will it go?
The USA certainly is in a tough position with some changes that were made to the squad to cover injuries. Thretton Palamo and Bennie Brazell have replaced the injured Ata Malifa and Mark Bokhoven in the squad. With an extra week, everyone is hoping that Captain Kevin Swiryn is back to full strength. He was clearly rusty in New Zealand and showed some lingering effects from his injury.
The USA has showed flashes, but have yet to put it all together into a consistent package. Don’t expect a win over Fiji. That team is on an entirely different level compared to the Fijiian team that the USA upset last season.
South Africa can be taken out with a complete effort. The USA certainly has the ability to put it together for 14 minutes and knock off the defending champs. This will be a pivotal matchup if the USa has any hope of reaching the quarterfinals.
That leaves Canada. Again, this is a must win whether the team is 2-0, 1-1, or 0-2 in pool play. They cannot lose to Canada on home soil. That is easier said than done. Canada is coming off a huge quarterfinal appearance in Wellington and will come to Las Vegas in high spirits.
The USA could go 2-1 in pool play and advance to the quarterfinals for the second straight year, but it’s going to take a huge effort. Well above what the team has shown so far this season. More likely the USA is looking at going 1-2 with an eye on finishing strong on Day 2.
For everyone not going to Las Vegas, ESPN360 and Setanta Sports are showing the entire tournament, all 44 matches. As with last year, ABC will follow with a one hour highlight special on February 20th.
Here are the pools for the Las Vegas 7’s: