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After a disappointing 0-3 opening day at Dubai, the USA team turned things around, not only by beating Zimbabwe and Canada, but doing both convincingly.
Head Coach Al Caravelli, however, wouldn’t say his team has turned a corner.
“We’ve made advancements,” Caravelli told RUGBYMag.com. “We lost to New Zealand and South Africa, and while we’re not happy we lost, we made some advancements there. I’d like to beat those teams, but we’re not there yet.”
What he could say was the team played with a lot of passion, and backed themselves a lot more.
“On defense we challenged teams to be fast enough to beat us,” he said.
Looking ahead to the Nelson Mandela Bay 7s in Port Elizabeth, the USA needs to get more of that passion and swagger. If there’s one player who has personified that approach, it’s been Mike Palefau. The center is quick, but not the quickest man around. And yet, he completes breakaways and is in support.
Up front, the forwards are starting to come together. They weren’t fast enough to the ball and were beaten at the point on contact too much in Gold Coast. As the World Series has progressed, the forwards have been tougher customers.
Improving also is Shalom Suniula. Always a good player, he is settling into a captaincy role, and that is allowing him to relax more in his play. It’s a transition that several captains have had to make. Mike Palefau’s second try against Zimbabwe was an excellent example. Not only did Suniula make the key break, he fed Folau Niua with a perfect pass, and then cleaned out two players to allow Mark Bokhoven to pass the ball out quickly.
On the converse, Suniula started the Bowl Final against Scotland with a kickoff out on the full, giving the Scots a free kick at midfield. You could see how that mistake bothered the captain.
But perhaps the player who is truly making strides is Mile Craigwell. His try against Canada put the game away and he is starting to take on that role of game-closer with alacrity.
(Lost in the shuffle might be players such as Peter Tiberio – young and still learning, sometimes learning harsh lessons. Time for him Folau Niua, Duncan Kelm, and even the relatively experienced Colin Hawley and Tai Enosa, is valuable.)
All of these aspects of play have to be better going forward, especially as the USA faces an astoundingly tough pool with England, Argentina and Samoa on the docket in South Africa.
The god news is, the Eagles took a step forward in Dubai, and now have a third tournament where they can build a little bit more.