HONG KONG — An electric Kenyan side stormed back in the second half of the Hong Kong Sevens Bowl final to edge the USA out 12-14.
A 28-14 win over Scotland in the Bowl Semifinal earlier in the day gave the Eagles momentum that they carried into the final, but they couldn’t finish Kenya off.
The first half saw the Eagles work extremely hard on defense, holding Kenyan ball-carriers up in contact and counter rucking well. Rookie Rocco Mauer got over for the Eagles first after gathering a slick flick pass from his captain, Shalom Suniula, and burning down the touch line for 60 meters. Mauer and Suniula played a key role in the next USA score stepping and bunching up Kenyan defenders on the right side of the field and then stretching them out left. Colin Hawley kept good width and depth and strolled in untouched, but worked to score under the posts.Up 12-0 at the half, the Eagles were simply outplayed in the second period. Humphrey Kayange splintered the USA defense with an excellent angled run. Suniula nearly cut him off before he got to the try line, but the tall Kenyan stretched out and scored his team’s first points of the game. Kenya pinched the ball from the Eagles to start their second scoring move. Kenyan and American bodies were piling up in the ruck and a quick pass released Willy Ambaka Ndayara for a try. With the successful conversion the Kenyans took a 14-12 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Late in the game the Eagles worked their way deep into the Kenyan half and made an aggressive call to quick tap when the Kenyans were penalized 15 meters in front of their own posts. The Eagles backed themselves to score and button the game up, but couldn’t breach the defense.
The two games in the knockout stages provided some cause for optimism, after the Eagles went 0-3 in Pool play against very powerful opponents New Zealand, South Africa and Wales. The USA plays next weekend in the Tokyo Sevens from March 31-April 1.
By USA Rugby - The 12-man rugby sevens squad heading to Guadalajara, Mexico will be engrained with a mantra that will help it maintain focus in the quadrennial tournament: ‘Play in the moment.’
“Playing in the moment helps every athlete and staff member focus on the task at hand. Not to get distracted by the environment, from peripheral things we don’t have control over,” said USA Head Coach, Al Caravelli. “If we take care of the little things the big things take care of themselves.”
That mentality will be put into practice on the field on October 29 when the team will see Brazil, Chile, and rivals Canada in pool play. Their record from the first day will determine which teams they will face in the playoffs on October 30. The other pool consists of Argentina, Mexico, Uruguay, and Guyana.
Caravelli continued to say that the Pan-Am environment itself can be distracting, but the players must maintain focus. As part of United States Olympic Committee and the guild of athletes and sports under the Team USA moniker, the USA Men’s Eagle Sevens team will compete in its first Olympic-style rugby sevens tournament. The Pan Am Games take place every four years and will serve as an Americas preview of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
“You can imagine that in a multisport event with over 2,000 athletes, we have to be prepared for anything and everything to be thrown at us. On the field of play, we will not take anyone lightly. Every game we play, we’ll have the attitude that it is a final, the players have embraced this and are executing.”
By Kyle Jones
USA gives up early lead to give Canada the win.
Canada 28 USA 22
“Disappointment” has to be the one thing on everyone’s mind after a stunning defeat by Canada today. A confusing start allowed Canada to score unscathed in the 6th minute after a bizarre call that would only set the tone for what was to come. USA overcame some poor kicks by Nese Malifa with two daring tries in the first half.
The fiirst came from Takudzwa Ngwenya after a brilliant pass from Todd Clever. Canada continued with penalties, providing Nese Malifa more opportunities to make good on penalty kicks, yet he failed to convert. Clever took things into his own hands and capitalized on Canada’s weakness: Line Outs. He intercepted one late in the first half, instantly converting it into a try and putting the Eagles up 15-7. The tide would begin to shift just before the half, with USA giving up senseless penalties as well, providing Canada with a penalty kick. The half ended USA 15-10 Canada.
Before you could say, “Bob’s your Uncle” the Eagles did the unthinkable. Nese Malifa dropped a pass back in his own red zone, providing Canada with an instant try and a two-point lead. The Eagles never went back in front.
Canada showed their physical dominance and ability to last the full 80 minutes by pounding out more penalty points and one more try with a quick phase out of an overpowering scrum. The score would climb to 25-15 before USA would even come close to another chance at goal. It would take Tim Usasz, the scrumhalf, to breathe direction and life into a fatigued USA offense. He would get them within meters of a try not once, but twice before Clever would bring it home off a flashy pass from Inaki Basauri.
But their missed opportunities to score just moments earlier cost them precious time and would not allow them to mount another attack before the game was over. With just 1 minute to go, Canada put up its final penalty kick to put the Eagles out of reach. The clock would wind down and USA would squander a first-half lead and hand a close win to Canada.
This game could have gone either way, with both teams playing very different halves. USA dominated possession early, but Canada clearly took advantage of the penalty calls and the fatigue of the USA Eagles.
Some things to watch out for next week at Infinity Park in Glendale, Colo.: USA Eagles fixing those poor kicks and maintaining their endurance throughout the match; Canada looking to desperately fix their lineout turnovers and maintaining possession. It should be another exciting match, which will hopefully come out in our favor. Stay tuned for details on tickets and live coverage.
Full Game Replay: Here
Video Highlights: Here
Team USA played their last game of the international sevens season on Sunday. After a bruising Saturday in Scotland, the Eagles were set to face Kenya in the Emirates Airline Edinburgh Sevens Bowl Quarterfinals. A tight 15-17 loss to the Kenyans sent the USA to the Shield Semifinals. Russia would score a late try to pull away and eventually hang on to win, eliminating the Eagles from Shield Final contention.
In their 17 previous encounters, Kenya had won 10 games and they would increase that tally to 11 against the USA on Sunday. Undoubtedly the Kenyans had thoughts of the Eagles hoisting the Bowl in Adelaide after defeating Kenya 17-10. It would be the Americans who lost on Sunday though.
Shalom Suniula struck first against Kenya, showcasing his elusive side step and penetrating speed to score as the Kenyan fringe defense was a shambles after Paul Emerick plowed through the ruck and took two Kenyan defenders with him. However after the early Eagle strike, Kenya upped their intensity at the breakdown and were able to capitalize on American penalties.
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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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“What are you going as?” is the first question out of people’s mouth these days in Wellington as the IRB Sevens tournament comes to town.
I’m apparently meeting two Troy Polamalus – friends from the Pacific islands dressing up as the legendary Pittsburgh Steeler strong safety – and an Uncle Sam.
The annual tournament – played here since 1999 – is the town’s excuse to go a little wild. More than 30,000 people come to Wellington for the tournament and even those without tickets head downtown in costume to let their hair down – or to don a wig.
“Wellington, if I had to describe it to anyone that didn’t know, I would explain it as if there’s a rock concert going on and all of a sudden someone decides to play a game of Rugby,” said U.S. captain Matt Hawkins. “It’s awesome. There’s no vibe like Wellington. The city’s awesome. The people are awesome.”
The two-day tournament features teams from 16 countries. The U.S. first faces England on Feb. 4, the first of their three games that day. Their tournament involvement begins with a multi-nation parade through the streets of Wellington.
The U.S. Eagle has had some success in Wellington, having gone to the cup twice and, last year, winning the shield. They’ve had big upset wins over Fiji, England and Samoa – and are hoping for more of the same.
“Wellington is almost as good as being home,” said U.S. Coach Al Caravelli. “So I like our second home here in Wellington.”
The Rugby is important, but so is the atmosphere. “Wellington really comes to life this time of the year,” said Roland Suniula.”
“We miss seing our Borat costume,” chimed in his brother, and fellow Eagle, Shalom.
Swimwear. Anyone who’s seen the Borat movie will know what that means. The Wellington Sevens rules describing permissible costumes no longer allow that type of attire. Shalom may be the only person sad about that. Then again, maybe not.
Adrian Pratt, U.S. Embassy, Wellington
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.”