Eagles Sevens Set To Close Out World Series Season At Home At LA Sevens
by Bob Reinert
Joe Schroeder competes at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on July 26, 2021 in Chofu, Tokyo.
Nothing provides a competitive edge in an international competition quite like a little bit of home cooking.
At least that’s what members of the U.S. men’s rugby sevens team hope will occur when they take part in the final World Rugby Sevens Series event of the year, which will be held Saturday and Sunday at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California.
“Obviously, we’re extremely excited to finally be back on home soil at a World Series event,” said U.S. coach Mike Friday, pointing out that it’s been more than two years since the Americans hosted a World Series event. “It’s always special to play in front of your home crowd and your family on home soil.
“The boys enjoy that. They rise to that challenge. And they’re excited by that challenge.”
While the Americans — currently sixth place in the overall standings — are out of the running for the World Series title, they hope to make a good showing at the LA Sevens tournament and gather momentum for the Rugby World Cup Sevens, which will take place Sept. 9-11 in Cape Town, South Africa.
South Africa leads the World Series with 124 points, followed by Australia (122), Argentina (118) and two-time defending Olympic gold medalist Fiji (104). All four teams have a shot at the championship. Team USA has accumulated 84 points after nine months of play.
The Americans have their work cut out for them this weekend. They face recent Commonwealth Games gold medalist South Africa (12:20 p.m. ET), current World Cup champion New Zealand (3:48 p.m. ET) and Canada (6:37 p.m. ET) in Saturday’s Pool B play. The games will be streamed live on Peacock.
“I think more so than any other time this series, the group that we’ve been put into is probably the worst ‘pool of death’ that I’ve seen this year,” Friday said. “It’s going to be an extremely tough ask for the guys.
“It’s going to be exceptionally hard, but that’s what the game of sevens is about. You have to rise to these challenges head-on, and we’re excited about it. I think we’ve got the potential to do really well if we play to our potential and we rise to the challenge rather than not.”
In the last World Series event, which took place May 28-29 in London, the U.S. ended with a 31-5 loss to Argentina in the ninth-place playoff.
Maceo Brown scores scores a try during the bronze-medal match against France at the 2019 HSBC London Sevens on May 26, 2019 in London.
Friday pointed out that Team USA lost 80 percent of its players and experience after placing sixth at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 and enduring the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The reality is that’s tough for a program and a squad to bounce back straight-away,” Friday said. “These last 12 months have been extremely challenging and difficult and tough on a young, evolving squad that has so much to live up to in terms of those that have gone before them and been recognized as a top formation in the world and carrying that burden whilst having to learn on the job.”
Another blow was the loss of team captain Kevon Williams to injury during the lead-up to this weekend.
“We are hugely disappointed for him as he was not only leading the boys so well on and off the pitch, he was also playing fantastically well on both sides of the ball,” Friday said. “Stephen Tomasin will step up to captain the team, a player with huge experience and most importantly he will lead by example and give us the best opportunity to be successful. No doubt, Joe Schroeder will be a calming dominant figure, as well.”
Is there a downside for the Americans to be playing at home?
“Yes, there are a lot of distractions at your home tournament, but it’s about making the players aware of their responsibilities and how they manage that,” Friday said. “I think the positives and the motivations and the excitement and the energy to play at your home tournament really far outweighs players just being able to manage distractions and being open and proactive with their family and friends before the tournament, so they give themselves the best chance to perform at the tournament.”
Creating a unique dynamic for the team is the quick turnaround to next month’s World Cup.
“I know they’re only 10, 12 days apart, but they’re very different tournaments,” Friday said. “The World Cup, it’s ‘March Madness.’ It’s straight knock-out.
“Our approaches will be the same, which is about trying to be consistent in performance and managing things you can manage and minimize mistakes.”
Friday said that his team has been on a bit of a “roller coaster ride” of late.
“We are brilliant one moment in one game, and then we make naïve, simple errors that we need to not make in other games that cost us semifinals,” Friday said. “But we are definitely moving in the right direction. We are rebuilding. We are growing that deck, not only for (the) 2024 (Olympics) but also towards 2028.
“What I’m asking from them is a robustness and a resilience to stay the course and to stay in the mental and the physical battle as we do kind of grow as a group because there will be lots of bumps and bruises along the way. It’s realizing and recognizing them for what they are and working hard every day to become a better rugby player on and off the pitch.”
Bob Reinert spent 17 years writing sports for The Boston Globe. He also served as a sports information director at Saint Anselm College and Phillips Exeter Academy. He is a contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.