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What do we expect from the USA in the Gold Coast 7s.
Judging from the RUGBYMag.com readership, not much. Just under 70% of those voting in our reader pool pick the Eagles to finish bottom four, or maybe get the Bowl.
Only 31% think they could make the Cup Quarterfinals or better.
The main reason for that, of course, is the fact the Eagles are facing South Africa in their opening match, and then hosts Australia in Round Two. So, sure, the #12 team in 2010-2011 is not favored against #2 and #6, especially when #6 is the home team.
And please don’t look past Japan in the third round. The Eagles don’t always beat the Japanese, either.
OK, so that’s the form sheet. But, let’s have some speculation about how the USA can do better than 9th. Here at RUGBYMag.com World Headquarters and Diner, we’ve seen the USA beat Australia, dominate Japan, and push South Africa very close.
We know they are capable of doing all that, and even beating South Africa for the first time, this weekend.
It comes down to two things for us: defense, and turnovers.
The Eagles have the athleticism. Despite being unable to include two of their speediest wings in this squad, they still have pace to combine with their infusion of power. If they have the ball, there is no reason they can’t score every time they have possession.
Having possession, that’s the issue. When they have the ball, the American team has to find that happy medium between being profligate with the ball, and thus giving up interceptions or turnovers, and being so conservative that scoring chances aren’t taken.
Throughout the 2010-2011 season, the USA showed moments of brilliance. They found that balance, at times, and it comes from a combination of confidence within the team, and within each player. The window to make the best pass is so small – too early and the defender can track it, too late and you’re in contact and can’t control the ball.
What we’d like to see the USA do is mix it up enough to keep opposing defenses guessing, using the fast guys and the rough guys. But more than anything, we need to see the USA players make smart decisions in contact. Passing out of contact when you’re in a strong position can be good, but when you’re being thrown to the ground it’s bad.
Going to ground to form a ruck can be good, but when there’s no support, players need to fight to stay up until help arrives.
When those sorts of things go wrong, they create turnovers which lead to opposition points.
On defense, the Eagles need to not only make their tackles, they have to contain that inexorable march downfield. It’s a constant marriage of ferocity and control. Get that right, and don’t get hung up on what Cecil Afrika is going to do every second, and they have a shot.
So taking care of the ball isn’t everything – sometimes you have to be less conservative. The USA is capable of doing all that. Asking them to do it right now, with this lineup not having played a lot together, is a tough one.