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Danny Barrett earned his first start in just his second-ever appearance in the USA’s 37-29 loss to Japan Saturday at StubHub Center in Carson, Calif. To match Japan’s fast-paced attack, USA coach Mike Tolkin fielded a nimbler, more athletic side, with five back row players in the starting scrum. That move put Barrett on the field at openside flanker, though he finished at No. 8.

Barrett was first selected to the 7s Eagles for the USA Sevens in Las Vegas in January. He got on the field in the first game of the tournament and scored a try. Against Japan Saturday he set one up.  

“The way I like to do it is if it’s going to happen is trial by fire. Just toss them in there and see how they do,” said Barrett of getting his first start. “That’s how it happened in 7s for me, and kind of how it happened is 15s as well. Just give it a go, and it’s up to the coaching staff to see how I play. I wasn’t nervous. A lot of the guys were very supportive, so it was good.”

Barrett was mostly a positive influence for the Eagles on the day. His most obvious highlight came in the last quarter of the game when he was positioned near the wing, gashed the Japanese defense and passed to former Cal teammate Blaine Scully for a try.

“Honestly I thought of it like it was 7s. We got the ball out wide, and I saw we had a mismatch with me and Blaine on two front row guys, so I took the first gap, and then I was waiting for that wing to bite, and the second he bit I hit Blaine, and Blaine just finished off in the corner real good.”

But the debutant starter made his fair share of mistakes, too. He was pinged for entering a ruck from the side, leading to three points for Japan. And he was part of a smaller Eagle pack that was dominated in the scrum, and more glaringly, the maul.

“They were pretty good at it. You’ve got to give them full credit,” said Barrett. “We’ve got to be able to hit those mauls harder, earlier, when they bring it down. They just did a real good job. There was a couple we did a good job of stopping, but a few others not so well. We’ve got to hit it harder earlier.”

One thing Barrett always does is bring the wood. He’s renowned for hard-charging runs with ball in hand and brain-shaking tackles. He laid his shoulder to a few Brave Blossoms Saturday, but was outshined in that area by the likes of Samu Manoa and Scott LaValla. That’s something he’s going to have to get used to – sharing the crowd’s adoration for big hitters.  

“I don’t really want to rely on other people to make big hits,” he said. “I want to be one of those guys that does that as well, but playing with them is a good stepping stone. The more I play with them, the more I can learn.”