Eagles are new Sevens wonder

Martin Iosefo passing the ball to a teammate while being tackled by Impi Visser of South Africa yesterday. The US defeated the Blitzboks 21-12 in their Hong Kong Sevens quarter-final but fell 28-19 to eventual champions Fiji in the semi-finals. They
Martin Iosefo passing the ball to a teammate while being tackled by Impi Visser of South Africa yesterday. The US defeated the Blitzboks 21-12 in their Hong Kong Sevens quarter-final but fell 28-19 to eventual champions Fiji in the semi-finals. They finished third by beating Samoa 22-10.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

US team's good balance and consistency, plus rivals' mistakes, make them firm contenders

The sheer consistency of the United States team has been the bedrock of their unexpected successes at this year's HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series.

Coupled with their rivals' inconsistency and carelessness, the Eagles, who have never finished higher than fifth overall (in 2017), are now sitting at the top of the league table and it is no surprise experts have tipped the Americans to make history this year.

Former Fiji sevens coach Ben Ryan, who guided the team to back-to-back sevens series championships in 2015 and 2016 and Olympic gold in Rio, told The Straits Times last week in a phone interview: "The (US) team is the most experienced in terms of players, tournaments and coaches than any other team in the series, so that makes a difference.

"The teams below them also haven't been consistent like in previous years, so that opened the door for the US and they ran through it."

He added that the Eagles have a good balance of players with different strengths.

"They have real speed at the wings, power in the forwards and lovely playmakers in the middle making them a nicely balanced side."

The US are the surprise leaders on 130 points after seven stops of the 10-leg competition, ahead of Fiji (123) and New Zealand (118).

STRONG CHALLENGERS

I've seen the side develop into a powerful force and their consistency has been really amazing to watch. Getting into five finals and winning one shows how good they've become.

BRYAN HABANA, South Africa's Rugby World Cup winner, who is impressed by the American team's development.

They finished third yesterday in the Hong Kong Sevens after beating Samoa 22-10, while Fiji thrashed France 21-7 to win their third tournament of the season.

The US started participating in the sevens series in 1999, but struggled at the start. It took them until 2015 before they won one of the legs - the London Sevens - and they finished sixth overall that season.

A second tournament win arrived on home soil at the 2018 Las Vegas Sevens.

This campaign, however, they have been regular contenders. They qualified for the first five Cup finals, winning one - again in Las Vegas - and were outside the medals only in Vancouver, Canada.

Former South Africa rugby union star Bryan Habana, who also played sevens for the Blitzboks, has also been impressed by the US' consistency.

"I've seen the side develop into a powerful force and their consistency has been really amazing to watch. Getting into five finals and winning one shows how good they've become," said Habana, 35, who won the Rugby World Cup in 2007.

The retired winger, famous for his explosive pace, singled out another speedster Carlin Isles as a key contributor towards the US' success.

Isles, 29, is the top scorer with 41 tries so far in this season's series. He was also the leading try-scorer last term with 49.

The competition moves to Singapore this week and the pressure will only intensify for the Americans, as they also seek to guarantee a top-four finish for the series and secure Olympic qualification for Tokyo 2020.

While praised for making those five Cup finals, they lost the first four in convincing fashion to top sides Fiji and New Zealand, raising questions about their ability to perform at the crucial moments.

Habana said: "They have shown that they know how to win, but their biggest challenge now will be to keep up their consistency."

• The HSBC Sevens will be held at the National Stadium this weekend. Tickets are now on sale from $19 at singapore7s.sg

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 08, 2019, with the headline 'Eagles are new Sevens wonder'. Print Edition | Subscribe