Rugby News & Views From an American Perspective
One of the most prestigious sevens tournaments on the face of the planet, the Hong Kong Sevens brings together twenty-four of the top sevens teams in the world for three days of exciting rugby action.
With twenty-four teams in play, Hong Kong differs from the other stops on the IRB Sevens World Series. The twenty-four teams are broken into six pools with the pool winners and two wild cards advancing to the Cup Quarterfinals.
Fresh off of their first ever trip to the finals in Adelaide, the USA heads to Hong Kong confident in their ability to stand among the best on the series.
“The boys will be up and ready (for Hong Kong). We just have to get better and build more,” said USA Sevens Head Coach Al Caravelli.
Without any serious injuries to the squad in Adelaide and Paul Emerick back from his three game suspension for a dangerous tackle, the USA is at full strength for Hong Kong.
In fact, they may be even better than they were in Adelaide.
The USA played the entire final day of the tournament without Emerick who has become a major factor on the IRB circuit. In the process of filling that void, Zach Pangelinan stepped up and provided the USA with quality minutes that he may not have receive had Emerick not been suspended.
Adelaide also gave Mark Bokhoven a chance to get back on the pitch and acclimated with the heightened play on the IRB circuit.
Captain Kevin Swiryn also had a break-out performance in Australia. After admittedly playing below his standards in Wellington and Las Vegas, Swiryn showed everyone why he was considered one of the best players on the IRB Series last year scoring four tries in Adelaide and playing with a spark that had been missing since he picked up an injury playing for the Eagles in the Fall.
The rest of the team are also coming into their own, especially Nick Edwards who continues to be among the leaders in tries on the IRB World Series.
The USA find themselves in the most manageable pool they’ve seen all season. That’s not to say that the pool will not provide the USA with resistance. With the wild card factor in play, the USA will not only be concerned with winning matches, but also points scored. The final two Cup Quarterfinalists will be decided by points differential.
On Day 1 of the tournament the USA gets started against Portugal. The two teams have met eight times on the IRB Series splitting the games evenly. The scores have been tight as well. Their last meeting came earlier in the season in Dubai where the USA narrowly won 5-0. Portugal hasn’t been in the last few events, so they will lack the continuity and momentum that the USA has built, giving the USA the upper hand.
Pressure will be a major factor the USA players. Will their status as favorites combined with the need to score points take them out of their game plan? Portugal may serve as the most difficult game in the pool for the USA.
The USA starts off Day 2 of the tournament facing Thailand. The two teams have met only once with the USA winning easily 38-7 in Hong Kong in 2001. Thailand should serve as a minor speed bump for the USA. The major onus will be on the USA to run up the score in an attempt to build the largest point differential possible.
They’ll need to do that, because their final pool opponent is none other than Fiji. The two teams know each other well and you can be certain that Fiji will be ready for the USA after the Americans nearly ambushed them in Las Vegas. Fiji is also looking to bounce back after losing, an unheard of, three games in Adelaide. If the USA sticks to their plan, this is a winnable game. At the very least, the USA needs to keep the scoreline close to improve their chances of reaching the Cup round.
“We need to keep going forward in our development and continue to grow as a team. We’d like to consistently make the top eight, and that means we have to play a tough game, every game,” added Caravelli. “We need to get in the mentality of making every game a final. I have a lot of faith that these guys will be up for that.”
Hong Kong serves as another landmark on the USA’s road to becoming considered among the elite of the sevens world.
Another trip to the Cup round is certainly achievable for the USA and for once it won’t take an upset to get there. The pressure is now on and may prove just as formidable of an opponent.
USA Sevens Squad for Hong Kong