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Team USA lost grip of first place on the HSBC Sevens World Series over the weekend, finishing third in London. First place came down to the semifinal bout with Fiji, who defeated the Eagles 17-10 en route to the tournament title to usurp them in the standings by two points with one tournament left. Team USA bounced back with a comprehensive defeat of France in the bronze-medal match, taking home hardware from the seventh of nine tournaments so far this season.
The loss of pole position dims the spotlight of becoming the first men’s team to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. That was the squad’s lone mission coming into the season, and they accomplished it on day one, beating Spain and Wales to open the tournament at 2-0 and qualify for the quarterfinals, assuring them enough points to clinch a top-four finish.
In the short term, that means the men, like the women, will get a bit of time off after the season. With the Pan-Am Games July 27-28 butting up closely to the start of the next World Series season followed quickly by the Olympics, not having to prepare and qualify through the regional tournament allows the team some well-earned time off. It was time they wished they’d had leading into Rio, as the team entered the tournament overcooked.
Long term, it means the USA won’t have to face Fiji in pool play in Tokyo. Fiji and New Zealand also qualified for Tokyo in London, and all South Africa has to do next week in Paris is show up. Those three teams, along with the Eagles, are guaranteed top-four seeds in Japan.
Exactly who slots in where is yet to be decided. Overall Olympic seeding will be determined by combined standings points from the 2018/2019 and 2019/2020 World Series. So, as it stands, the Eagles are in second in that race.
The World Series title is still well within reach. By beating France to win Bronze, the Eagles stay within two standings points of Fiji, meaning they control their own destiny. If the USA wins in Paris, they win the HSBC Sevens World Series. If they both make the quarterfinals as they have all season, the USA will need to either finish first in Paris or two spots ahead of Fiji to win it all.
In Sunday’s semifinal, the top try scorer in the world, Carlin Isles, was unavailable, having suffered an injury in the quarterfinal win over Canada. Still, the Eagles struck first through Martin Iosefo, who caught a desperate assist from Perry Baker.
Fiji responded in short order with a converted try to take a 7-5 lead. It appeared the defending Olympic champs were about to stretch it with a score in the corner, but the chase from Baker was enough for the would-be scorer to step into touch as he dotted down, nullifying the grounding. The Eagles went into halftime down just a conversion, but momentum fully favored Fiji.
Team USA was never able to regain rhythm after that initial possession, partially due to their own self-inflicted handling errors and partially due to Fiji being allowed to crawl through the rucks on defense, causing multiple turnovers.
Fiji scored first in the second half, and Jerry Tuwai’s touchline conversion was barely missed, leaving the Eagles within a converted score at 12-5. The USA’s lone highlight in the second half was a long-distance individual effort from Kevon Williams, who stepped through a gap in the Fijian defense inside his own 22 and outpaced Jerry Tuwai for the try. The conversion was missed, leaving the Fijians up 12-10 before they added one more for good measure.
The Eagles have drawn Canada, Samoa and Spain in Pool C for Paris. If they make the quarterfinals, they wouldn’t see Fiji until the semifinal at the earliest. Stephen Tomasin was the lone Eagle named to the London Dream Team.