Rugby News & Views From an American Perspective
by Ted Hardy, Editor, Rugby America
Has it already been a year? Team USA returns to the scene of their first ever trip to the Cup Finals, as the Adelaide 7’s is set to kick off this weekend in Australia. Just a year ago, the USA made the improbable journey to reach the championship game in Adelaide where they fell to Samoa in the finals.
The trek was made even more special as Team USA downed England in their opening pool game to set the tone for the rest of the tournament.
Team USA from last year at this time to this year is far from the same team that played so well. Gone are Kevin Swiryn, Nick Edwards, Leonard Peters, Nese Malifa, and Mark Bokhoven… all players who served vital roles on the most successful USA team to date.
Team USA has plenty of experience and return players like Matt Hawkins, Zach Test, Marco Barnard, Shalom Suniula, and Paul Emerick. All of which also played a part in the USA’s run in Adelaide last season. However, something is definitely missing as the USA has fallen to 13th in the standings and has an improved Canadian side hot on their heels.
In short… they have lost their mojo and need to get it back fast.
As Team USA prepares this week for their opponents in Adelaide, they do so knowing that their back is up against the wall. Pool C is by far the most difficult pool assembled in the tournament and the USA is smack dab in the middle of it.
The USA opens up pool play against Fiji who have been playing very well this season and may be on the verge of winning a tournament. Fiji is powerful, explosive, and punishes mistakes like few teams can. All-time the USA is 2-13 against Fiji and have been outscored 495-147 (average of 33-10). The teams last met earlier this season in George, South Africa with Fiji hammering the USA 43-5.
Things don’t get any easier in the USA’s second pool game as they face off against host team, Australia. It wasn’t that long ago that the USA and Australia were on pretty even footing. Since then, Australia has created a pretty wide gap. All-time the USA is 2-14 against Australia and have been outscored 482-165 in those games. The two teams last met in Hong Kong last season when Australia came away with a 21-12 win. Just like Fiji, this will not be an easy game for Team USA.
The USA’s final pool opponent, Tonga, is no gimme either. The USA’s recent run of lackluster results has put them in a position where their tournament draws are getting tougher. All-time the USA is 5-5 against Tonga with their last meeting coming in Hong Kong just a few days ago. The USA triumphed in extra-time 26-21 after letting a 21-7 lead slip away. Tonga will give the USA everything they have and then some.
Advancing to the Cup round is looking pretty bleak for the USA. The USA will need to upset either Fiji or Australia and defeat Tonga. Again, nothing that the team isn’t capable of, but current form says otherwise. The USA could go 2-1, but 1-2 in pool play is more likely and 0-3 is entirely possible.
As the USA has the anniversary of their first trip to a Cup Final, this may be the toughest pool the USA has faced all season.
Taking a look at the rest of the tournament field in Adelaide, New Zealand heads up Pool A. Coming off winning the Hong Kong 7’s, New Zealand has taken up the top spot on the HSBC World Series standings. Joining the Kiwi’s in Pool A are Kenya, Wales, and Cook Islands. This pool should be a fun one to keep an eye on. Both Wales and Kenya disappointed a bit in Hong Kong and will be ripe to make amends. The Cook Islands are always the underdog, but have the ability to surprise.
Pool B includes England, Argentina, Scotland, and Papua New Guinea. After losing in the finals in Hong Kong, England dropped to 2nd in the standings. They should have little trouble advancing from this pool. The real battle will be for second fiddle. Argentina hasn’t been the same team this season while Scotland has played with renewed effort.
Pool C includes Fiji, Australia, USA, Tonga, and was already previewed above.
The final pool in Australia, Pool D, has South Africa, Samoa, France, and Japan. South Africa and Samoa will battle for top seeding in the pool. Both teams are dangerous in different ways and the defending champs, Samoa, are still looking for the form that brought home the title last season. France and Japan round out the pool and have little chance of knocking off South Africa or Samoa which leaves their face-to-face matchup as the big game for them. France has been the worst “core” team on the HSBC World Series, a distinction they have held for a few years now.
The Adelaide 7’s is set to play this coming weekend, April 2-3 at the Adelaide Oval in Adelaide, Australia. The tournament is the 6th tournament on the popular HSBC World Series. The tournament is poised to be yet another barnburner.
“The Adelaide Oval is a special place for the teams to compete, steeped as it is in history and tradition, and the event there also has a habit of illustrating just how competitive Rugby Sevens has become, with Kenya and the USA reaching the Cup final in the last two years,” commented IRB Sevens Manager, Beth Coalter.
HSBC World Series Standings