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The Eagles are hoping to continue their record of consecutive Cup Quarterfinal appearances this weekend in Tokyo, and they again have another favorable pool. Up first at 10:50 p.m. Friday is Kenya. Then it’s rival Canada at 1:08 a.m. and first-place South Africa at 4:58 a.m. Saturday (all times Eastern).
These pool draws aren’t strokes of luck or gifts from the rugby Gods – they’re earned. The better you do in one tournament, the better your draw for the next. The Eagles are undefeated against Kenya (3-0) and Canada this season (2-0), and they’re 0-3-1 against South Africa. That’s not to say the Eagles can’t lose to all three teams. They’ve had their scares against all three, but bright silver linings, too.
With Kenya, maybe the most telling win was the 21-14 squeaker last week in Hong Kong, not the blowout in South Africa or the victory in Dubai. Sure, the Eagles were not good in the first half of the Hong Kong opener and trailed 14-0 after seven minutes, but the way they stayed collected and methodically scored three unanswered tries to win displayed the confidence and poise of no other American team in recent memory.
The last time the USA trotted out against Canada, the result was the Eagles’ best performance against its rival in some time. On American soil in Las Vegas, the Eagles dominated Canada in a 20-0 shutout, owning possession and field position like rarely seen in a 7s match.
The Americans made a big stand against South Africa in Las Vegas, too, playing the Series leaders to a 19-19 tie in the pool decider. Having not come within more than a couple of tries of the Blitzbokke all season, they grinded to a draw. Sure, they lost 31-0 to South Africa later in the tournament, but scoring a tie was a deposit in the confidence bank.
Sitting out the pool stage will be Folau Niua, as he serves the second half of his six-game suspension after booting England’s James Rodwell in Hong Kong. Last week, Mike Friday tinkered with Nate Augspurger in Niua’s spot, starting him in an ugly loss to Samoa. He switched things up and had better luck with Test at flyhalf against Argentina and Australia.
Friday’s charges have already broken the USA’s record for consecutive top eight appearances in the coach’s first year, and they can tie the Eagle record for most Cup Quarterfinal appearances in season this weekend, too.
The USA is one point adrift of Argentina and sixth place in the standings, which is likely the highest the Eagles could climb this season with just three tournaments remaining. They’re 15 points behind fifth-place England and 21 points from Australia, which is clinging to that valuable fourth-place slot, which will be rewarded with an Olympic berth at season’s end. Still, sixth, would shatter the record for the USA’s best ever World Series finish.