Rugby News & Views From an American Perspective
The USA winning only one out of five games this past weekend at the George 7′s was a bit of a surprise for everyone. As a team striving to push towards the top of the circuit, a step backwards can be expected from time to time. That is, as long as the steps back aren’t too far back.
The Day 1 draw for the USA was tough, no doubt about it. The results were not entirely unexpected, but after playing Samoa close a better result against Fiji was expected. They took out Namibia easily in a game that was setting up to become a trap for the USA.
Day 2 of the tournament was a big surprise as the team struggled to put away two teams that they should have beaten. They essentially beat themselves and a few key areas of the tournament stats explain it perfectly.
The two major areas where the USA struggled compared to last weekend is in their tackling and errors. Those are two of the most vitals areas in 7′s. With limited time and opportunities, errors and missed tackles can turn into points for the opposition real fast.
The USA finished dead last in the tournament with 55 tackles made (11/game) which was down from 81 made in Dubai that was near the top of the leaderboard. The USA also missed 20 tackles which was almost nearly as many as they missed in Dubai with fewer attempts made in George. The USA’s tackle completion rate was down to 73% in George and still a long way off from the 90% Head Coach Al Caravelli longs for.
Errors were also way up in comparison to Dubai and directly contributed to the USA 1-4 record this weekend. Team USA’s errors almost doubled from only 13 errors in Dubai to 29 in George. That was an average of 5.8 errors/game. Tackling issues aside, making that many errors alone is enough to bury a team.
Surrendered possession was also an issue for the USA as they gave up possession 51 times (just over 10/game).
With all of that in mind, the USA still did pretty well to compensate for their struggles and the tournament could have turned out quite differently had they made some more tackles and fewer errors.
The USA was outscored 112-94 in George which is a much closer point margin than they surrendered in Dubai (124-74). The difference was exacerbated by Shalom Suniula’s struggles kicking conversions this weekend. Suniula went 7/16 on conversions this weekend. Take away the 4 of 5 he made in the blowout win over Namibia and that number drops to 3 for 11.
There’s no telling how many of the conversions were difficult by any standard, so it is hard to hold Suniula responsible for the points left on the board. He’s also played extremely well covering flyhalf for the injured Nese Malifa.
The USA scored 16 tries in George which was more than they scored in Dubai (12). Roland Suniula led the way for the USA with four tries in George. The team also gave up fewer tries (18 in George, 20 in Dubai). The squad’s strike rate (passes per try) was near the top of the tournament leaders with only 8.6 passes/try which was a huge improvement over their strike rate from Dubai.
So, the defense clicked in Dubai and the offense came around in George. When the two get on the same page, then the USA will see far more consistency in their play.
Just two tournaments into the season and it looks like Caravelli is settling in on a lineup. If this same group can play all the way through the season together, there is much success ahead of them.
Team Captain Matt Hawkins, Mark Bokhoven, Shalom Suniula, and Zach Test started all five games for the USA in George. Miles Craigwell, Nu’u Punimata, Mile Pulu, and Roland Suniula appeared in all five games whether starting or coming off the bench. Marco Barnard also saw plenty of game time (4 starts) all while playing on an injured leg.
Colin Hawley saw a share of action in George although he could become expendable if Paul Emerick becomes available for the rest of the season. PJ Komongnan saw limited activity after joining the squad to replace the injured Jason Pye and Kyle Marshall spent most of the tournament on the sidelines. He may have been squeezed out of the picture a bit by the quick emergence of Craigwell and Punimata.
Craigwell and Punimata are the surprise players for the USA after the first tour of the season. While no one can deny their athletic ability, they were able to come out and make an impact on the World Series faster than any cross-overs before them. Both players saw significant playing time in both tournaments and contributed to the team on the field.
To date, Leonard Peters was the most successful cross-over athlete to play for the USA 7′s team. It took a handful of tournaments before he saw significant playing time. In that time, he impressed outsiders with how quickly he took to rugby.
These players have proved that with the proper training and dedication, cross-overs can be brought up to international level in a relatively short amount of time.
The scary part for the rest of the world? They’re only going to get better and pave the way for more athletes to make the jump.
All things told, George was disappointing from a win/loss standpoint. But, the areas that hurt the USA can all be fixed moving forward in preparation for Wellington and Las Vegas in February. This is a major difference from teams in the past that needed to play perfectly to have a sniff of a chance against most teams. This team has all of the athleticism, players, and tools to beat any team on the World Series.
Once they put it all together, their opponents will long for the USA 7′s teams of the past.
USA 7′s Stats from the George 7′s in South Africa