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The USA Men's 7s team is into the Shield Final once more as they defeated Portugal 31-10 in the Wellington 7s Saturday.
Madison Hughes once again was the USA's most electric player, scoring two tries and making some other smart plays, while Brett Thompson and Garrett Bender both showed well.
Head Coach Matt Hawkins named a young starting lineup, with Danny Barrett joining Bender and Thompson in the forwards, Hughes at scrumhalf, Pono Haitsuka at flyhalf, Zack Test at center, and Carlin Isles at wing. Veterans Nick Edwards, Folau Niua, Andrew Durutalo, and Shalom Suniula were all on the bench, and none saw much time.
The result was a hard-working performance where the Eagles still gave away far too many penalties in the ruck, but they made a lot of tackles, and realized that passing to players in space is actually a good thing.
Isles contributed two long-range tries, a few minutes from each other, putting aside criticism that he can't make two long runs in a short period.
Bender started the game by doing well to rescue the kickoff before it went into touch, and after a long period with the ball, the Eagles saw Test beat a couple of defenders and then dish to the scampery Hughes, who toasted his markers and went in for the try.
Isles and Haitsuka helped set up Barrett for a long run, but the forward was stopped just short and penalized for holding on. Portugal tried to make something of that but the USA tackling was too good. A brilliant cover tackle from Thompson forced a turnover and then Hughes took the ball, fed Bender, who set up Haitsuka for a coast-to-coast try and a 10-0 lead.
Another nifty run from Test set up Hughes for his second, and his conversion made it 17-0 at halftime.
All of these tries owed a little to Bender's ability to clear Portuguese ruckers off the ball.
In the second half, the Eagles and Portugal were sloppy. Eventually, though, Isles, who had not seen the ball with much space, picked from the back of the ruck, beat a couple of tacklers, and blazed 90 meters to score and make it 24-0. Portugal scored right after (although it appeared that Hughes appeared out of nowhere to hold the ball up), but then hands out to Isles, who want 80 to score.
Portugal scored at the death, but this was all USA, and it was all the youngsters. Thompson is fast becoming the USA's best player, Bender is a mighty presence and a much improved player from his first stint with the USA, and Hughes looked very much at home on the field.
The Eagles, if they play this well, should have little trouble with Spain in the Shield Final. Spain looked poor against a poor Tonga team, beating the Tongans in the Shield semifinal 17-12 in overtime.
Tries: Hughes 2, Isles 2, Haitsuka
Convs: Hughes 3
Tries: Guedes, Marques