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After going 1-1 to Australia in the first two tests of their exhibition series at the 2018 USA Sevens in Las Vegas, Nev., the United States Falcons were unable notch a victory on Sunday. Saturday’s matches were cancelled due to complications with the pitch, so two games were scheduled inside Sam Boyd Stadium on Sunday. In the early game, the defending Olympic gold medalists beat the Falcons 40-7 and in the fourth and final match, the USA improved but still fell, 39-12.
Head coach Ritchie Walker summed up the weekend saying, “We knew after we beat Australia on Saturday that they were going to change their gameplan and we just needed to adapt. We are working on a few things, but Australia is #1 in the world and they really proved it [on Sunday]. It was good for us in our preparation moving forward for the World Series and the World Cup. For us, we learned a lot from day two that we need to fix before we continue into the series and World Cup.”
Walker emphasized ball presentation, staying up on defense, and more forward attack as his main focus from the games. “We needed to stay up [on defense] and we kept dropping back. We got a bit better in the second game, but we still needed to stay up a little bit more. They were catching us at the ruck with our ball presentation so we got to be better there and be clinical moving forward... As you saw, when we were attacking forward we did really well. We started going sideways sometimes and Australia were catching us.”
For Sunday’s first game, a USA penalty set up the Pearls’ first time after a flawless set piece and inside move sent Australia free and clear for an eight-five meter score. The Falcons responded with a hammering charge down the pitch and, regrettably, left an injured Australian player at midfield. Playing for an extended period with the player advantage, the United States was able to capitalize with a try by Nicole Heavirland and conversion in the fifth minute. Tied at 7-7 apiece, a penalty to the Aussies turned into a show-and-go try for Australia up the gut to end the half with Australia out in front, 14-7.
The second half could scarcely have started better for the Pearls, taking the restart perfectly then carving up the American defense with a combination of speed and spot-on execution. Much of the same followed for the remainder of the match as Australia’s speed and skill took advantage of the USA defense for three more tries.
In the second match in the break between the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds of the USA Sevens, the Pearls set the tone immediately as Charlotte Caslick sprinted try down the left touchline for a try. Three more scores followed as the Pearls worked the American defense to lead 22-0 at the lead.
In the second half, the Falcons started with a try from the brilliant Naya Tapper, but Australia answered back in the eleventh minute. Emma Tonegato’s try in the thirteenth minute pushed the score to 32–5 in favor of Australia. In the final minute, American Ryan Carlyle got through for a try to the left of the post, with Alev Kelter on the conversion.
Despite not winning the series, the United States Falcons acquitted themselves masterfully against a squad of Olympic gold medalists and will be much better suited for their next World Series stop in April.
The Falcons played to test themselves against the best in the world, but also to compete in front of their home crowd. “We had good boot up energy, the girls really liked it,” Walker concluded. “I had to bring them in earlier so they could feel it. They are really happy with the crowd and their energy was second to none. You could feel that in the girls and they didn’t give up until the end because they were feeding off the crowd. It’s always good to play at home.”