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Dragged somewhat down to earth the USA 7s team flies home today to regroup for Wellington and Las Vegas in February.
Head Coach Al Caravelli wants to take his team to Durban, Australia as preparation for those next tournaments. It seems unlikely that USA Rugby will suddenly get a financial windfall to pay for it, and it's not in the budget right now, so the idea remains just that, an idea.
Regardless, Caravelli is looking for some changes.
"We talked about searching for consistency," Caravelli said Saturday evening. "The theme going forward has to be consistency. We can't be a team that is in the Cup Quarters one week and the Shield semis another."
Caravelli said the key thing is to raise the team's tackle rate, and reduce the turnover rate and handling errors.
Losses can be traced directly to those problems. Against France, their set defense didn't waiver, but on turnover ball the missed tackles exacerbated the problems (leading to a 19-17 loss).
Caravelli wants 100% ball-retention in scrums, lineouts and receiving restarts. He wants 60% ball retention when kicking off. And he wants the tackle rate over 90%.
And finally ... mental toughness.
"There are turning points or momentum shifts in games," Caravelli said. "What we need is to have the mental toughness to eliminate the times momentum shifts against us. We've been playing with peaks and valleys, and we need to fill in those valleys."
When the team has lost momentum, they have started to force the game, making 50-50 passes or running away from support. That way lies disaster.
So who will be implementing a more patient approach to their 7s rugby is the other question. Several of the USA players seem set in their positions. Matt Hawkins has been outstanding (speaking of momentum shifts, his tackle at the end of the first half against Namibia prevented a try, and a momentum shift in Namibia's favor), and Mark Bokhoven isn't far behind. Zack Test has been inconsistent, but is getting better.
Nu-u Punimata has been a revelation as a forward sub. He's still learning what you can get away with on the international level, but for a player in his first IRB tournaments, he's been great.
At halfback, Marco Barnard basically played in South Africa on one leg. He will have his injury looked at and, ideally, fixed in time for Wellington. PJ Komongnan might be more consistent if he'd been on the circuit on a regular basis. He's flashy, but has competition.
Shalom Suniula has been moved from scrumhalf to flyhalf to scrumhalf back to flyhalf again. He has really stepped up, and the only aspect of his game that needs a large amount of work is his goalkicking. In the USA's four losses in George, he was 3-11. He needs to double that.
Among the centers and wings, Pulu is getting better and better. He is not only quick, but powerful, while Roland Suniula has also improved dramatically. Mile Craigwell is another player new to the circuit who doesn't look like a rookie. He has made things happen. In Dubai, the USA recorded six dominat tackles (when you knock the ballcarrier straight back); Craigwell made five of them.
Colin Hawley is still developing, but had several good moments. Kyle Marshall hardly played.
So that appears to leave two or three spots available for someone to break in. Who might we see?
Paul Emerick. Brings an impact. Can play forward or back. HUgely physical, experienced, and a leader. If he hasn't signed with a pro team, he might be a possibility.
Justin Boyd. Was close to coming back from his knee injury this fall. Could be ready in the New Year. Brings speed and experience as an outside back.
Gerson Blaise or James Aldridge. Very green, but they both could bring impact minutes.
Taylor Mokate. Almost made the team after the last camp. Would be a forward backup, putting Test in more of a backs role.
Ata Malifa. Well if they want a flyhalf, he's the guy.