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.
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.
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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.
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Until July, Miles Craigwell had never touched a Rugby ball. Yes, July of 2010. Now he’s playing sevens for the U.S.A. Eagle.
Cut by the Miami Dolphins and faced with the choice of being a practise football player, Craigwell headed back to his native Boston. At just 24, Craigwell, who’d been a stellar college football player in the Ivy League at Brown University, was left to contemplate his future.
Back home something coincidental happened. You might even call it fate.
“I was sitting in a diner just eating,” Craigwell said. “And I turned to look at the TV and the Collegiate Sevens on NBC were playing and I looked and I saw the athleticism out there, the pace of the game … and I was just like this is what I want to play.”
He was wowed.
He called his agent and told him to find whomever he needed to speak to. To make it happen. Soon he was in touch with U.S. Sevens coach Al Caravelli and was learning the basics of Rugby.
Within a couple of months he’d been called to duty for the national team and was heading abroad to play in the Dubai IRB Sevens tournament.
Craigwell and the other American players believe that, with Sevens Rugby becoming an Olympic event in 2016, there could be more crossover between American Football and Rugby. NBC has also begun scheduling Rugby programming more often – including live broadcasting of all the U.S. games for the Rugby World Cup this year.
“It’s really up and coming with the Olympics coming up,” Craigwell said. “The national broadcasting of NBC should market the sport very well and American athletes and little kids hopefully will be inspired to play Rugby and love the sport as much as I do.”
His captain, Matt Hawkins, agrees, saying Rugby in the States is “exploding.”
They’re seeing signs of a groundswell everywhere they go. At a recent Olympic Sevens tournament in California, almost 600 kids showed up. The players found themselves in an unfamiliar limelight, signing autographs and chatting with their fans.
Craigwell, who bubbles with good-humored enthusiasm, says he loves the athleticism of his newly adopted game. While American Football requires explosive bursts of energy in four-second segments, a Sevens game is 14 minutes of exhausting action.
He likes that.
He also likes the places Rugby is taking him. He looked around appreciatively at the team’s Evans Bay training grounds in Wellington. “Now I’m in New Zealand,” he said. “It’s surreal.”
He’s already played tournaments in Dubai and South Africa and he hopes, “God willing,” that his body will last the tribulations of Rugby long enough to get him to Rio de Janiero for the 2016 Summer Olympics. To help his country bring a medal home. After all, the U.S. are the defending Olympic Rugby champions, bringing home the gold medal for 15-man Rugby in 1920 and 1924, the last time Rugby was part of the Olympics.
Adrian Pratt, US Embassy, Wellington
GEORGE, South Africa- There is no such thing as an easy pool in the HSBC Sevens World Series, but there is definitely a particularly difficult one, and that is what the USA team found out when they squared-off with Pool B opponents Samoa and Fiji. But flashes of brilliance and determined grit landed the Eagles in the Emirates Airline South Africa 7s Bowl quarterfinals against France.
Unfortunately, that’s as far as it went for the U.S. The next day they lost to both France and Zimbabwe by the identical scores of 19-17.
The Eagles didn’t take a backwards step in the opening match against defending world champions Samoa. Instead, the Eagles scored after 25 seconds through East Palo Alto center, Mile Pulu. Two minutes later Eagle skipper, Matt Hawkins, led by example and dotted down another score, leaving Samoa scratching their collective head and finding themselves down ten points early.
The Samoans answered back before halftime and carried the momentum through the first five minutes of the second half, scoring four unanswered tries. It was USA newbies Nu’u Punimata and Miles Craigwell who brought the USA within three points of the biggest upset of the South Africa 7s. The two crossover athletes heeded USA Head Coach Al Caravelli’s favorite mantra “Empty the Tank” and throttled their way to two USA tries late in the match. In the end, missed conversions cost the USA the game, with a final score of 24-22.
Scrumhalf Shalom Suniula’s phenomenal handling skill and Craigwell’s physicality in the Samoa match garnered the attention of the commentators with a nice finish by Punimata. The Eagles earned a “Play of the Day” highlight produced by the IRB (http://tinyurl.com/2cz3gox).
After emptying the tank against one island giant, the Eagles were in Fiji’s sights for the USA’s second pool matchup of day one. Pulu struck for the USA early, scoring the only American points of the match after only 17 seconds of play. Knock ons and missed tackles sealed the fate of the Americans and the match ended with a lopsided 43-5 score line in favor of Fiji.
A loss is a loss, but the Eagles played Samoa tough and had real flashes of brilliance against excellent competition, showing the promise of this young Eagles team. The USA also hung with rugby powerhouse New Zealand in what started out as a close match last weekend in Dubai. With every tournament, the young squad is getting better and more experienced, an asset for the USA in both the near and short terms.
PULU POWERS ON
Rugby sevens is the ultimate team sport, but when a player is on a streak like Mile Pulu is on, it’s definitely worth noting. Pulu has scored seven tries so far in the Sevens World Series, with at least one try in every game. It’s safe to say Caravelli is glad Mile came along with the USA for the first two stops of the Series.
- Jarrod Beckstrom, USA RUGBY
DUBAI – USA Men’s Sevens lost its two second round games at the Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens in the United Arab Emirates, but coach Al Caravelli is happy with the way his team is finding its shape.
Having advanced to the quarter finals of the first tournament of eight in the renamed HSBC Sevens World Series, USA earned their first log points, something that had taken them four tournaments last year.
“We played some good rugby and because of our recent history with Hong Kong I’d give our participation here a pass,” said Caravelli.
“We want to finish in the top ten and these six points are a good start.”