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For the third time in history, Team USA is onto a cup final on the HSBC Sevens World Series. It took a quarterfinal upset over Fiji, 24-19, and a resounding semifinal win over Australia, 40-7, but the Eagles will play Canada at 8:30 a.m. ET Sunday for the Singapore 7s title.
Having finished second in Pool D, the USA drew the unenviable task of facing Fiji, winners last week in Hong Kong, in the quarterfinals. The USA wrestled the advantage in the first half and ran away with it early in the second to seal the win.
Fiji knocked on the opening restart, giving the ball to the United States. The Eagles capitalized with a try from Ben Pinkelman. The conversion was unsuccessful. The Eagles seemed dead set on starving Fiji of possession, and Perry Baker took the ensuing restart, but a big tackle jostled the ball loose, and Waisea Nacuqu scored the loose ball. With the kick, Fiji led 7-5.
The deceptively fast Stephen Tomasin would put the USA up before the half with a midfield break and score of his own. Hughes converted this time, making it 12-7 at intermission. Team USA would explode for two tries to start the second half, the first off a penalty play by Tomasin and the second on an offload from Tomasin to Pinkelman, to claim a 24-7 lead. Fiji would score twice more before the end of the game, but there was too little time for it to ever be in doubt.
“It’s attritional out there. It’s brutal, the climate’s brutal, the environment’s brutal, so everybody’s got to pitch in, and what we’re seeing there is a real team desire, resilience and grit,” said Mike Friday after the Fiji win.
“That’s all I expect from them. And to be fair to them, they’ve given it in bucket loads, so what more can you ask for as a coach? Ability is one thing, but effort and attitude is everything, and they’ve given it there, big time.”
The semifinal against Australia took a similar pattern – close early, with the USA scoring in bunches to put it away. The Americans won the first possession but coughed it up fairly easily. Australia took care of its first touch, patiently biding its time until it stressed the American defense out of a sweeper and kicked through, regathering for the opening try.
The USA would take hold of the momentum immediately, though, scoring three-straight tries before the half. The first came when Danny Barrett barreled over a pair of Australians on the right, soaking up numbers to give Perry Baker space on the left.
Then the Eagles asserted their dominance at the kickoff, winning their first of five-straight restarts to put Tomasin away for his first try of the game. Barrett would snatch the next restart straight out of the air, and after some attacking probes on each sideline, Martin Iosefo stepped through the middle of the defense for the USA’s third score. All of them were converted, putting the Eagles up 21-7 at the break.
Momentum followed Team USA to the second half, as it would be three tries to nil in favor of the Eagles. Tomasin notched the first, his second of the match, by just gassing Australia out wide. Then Barrett trucked over enough bodies to slam down his own try. And Baker found enough space out wide to complete the brace.