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Team USA went 1-2 Sunday at BC Place to finish fourth at Vancouver 7s. The day started with a titillating 21-19 win over England in the quarterfinals, but it was uphill from there, as France was dominant in a 33-5 dismantling of the mistake-riddled Eagles in the semifinal, ending the USA’s season-long run of making the championship match.
The Eagles fell short against Fiji in the bronze-medal match, 24-14, but they leave Canada still in first place, finishing better than the three teams who entered the tournament directly below them in the standings. They gained two points on second-place New Zealand, which finished fifth in Vancouver, and now lead the All Blacks by seven with four tournaments to play. They lost two points on Fiji, but 12 points still separate them from the reigning Olympic champions.
Perhaps most importantly, the Eagles gained ground on fifth place. They entered the competition 31 points clear of fifth-place South Africa, and they leave 36 points clear of fifth-place England. They’re all but guaranteed a top-four finish.
A first-ever World Series title is well within reach. Should the USA maintain its lead through four more tournaments, it would become just the fifth nation to life the circuit trophy. New Zealand has won 12 titles, South Africa and Fiji three each, and Samoa one.
The highlight of the day was the comeback quarterfinal. The Eagles started poorly, conceding a 19-point halftime deficit. The backslide was fueled by a costly turnover. The Eagles were threatening to answer England’s first score, probing deep in the attacking end, but they were turned over and Madison Hughes was penalized for an intentional knock while scrambling in defense. Not only did the USA give up the score, Hughes was lost for two minutes.
The second half was all USA. Hughes got it going with the first try, rounding England’s flank. The second was slammed home by Ben Pinkelman, who bested Dan Bibby from short range after an English penalty. Hughes slotted both conversions, cutting the deficit to 19-14 with about 90 seconds to play.
Martin Iosefo tapped the restart back to his side, but a penalty was called on Bibby for playing the Hawaiian in the air. Folau Niua punted for an attacking lineout, and several phases later, Carlin Isles lost the ball in contact, but penalty advantage was on, and Stephen Tomasin scored off the quick-tap with no time left. Hughes nailed the walk-off conversion, sending the USA to the next round.
The Eagles started the semifinal with a long, methodical possession, milking most of the first two minutes. The French defense was impenetrable, though, and Stephan Parez won a penalty at a breakdown deep in his own end, quick-tapped and ran over 90 meters for the opening try.
France’s defense continued to stifle, driving the Eagles into their own try zone off the restart. Matai Leuta was swarmed and tried to keep his feet, while the ball was ripped from him and dotted down, putting the USA down 12-0.
Parez set up France’s third try, scored by Marvin O’Connor. The halfback attacked the gap outside Brett Thompson, slipping the assist to O’Connor. The conversion made it 19-0 going into the half.
JP Barraque sounded the USA’s death knell a minute into the second half, scoring off an American handling error to put France up 26-0. He added another after Thompson was stripped of the ball in the tackle.
In the bronze medal match, the Eagles went with a younger side. Marcus Tupuola, Maceo Brown, Joe Schroeder and Kevon Williams all started. They kept it close until the end, but fell short against third-place Fiji.
Fiji struck first through Alasio Naduva on the wing, and the USA leveled things with a similar score from Williams on the opposite end. The Eagles converted and Fiji didn’t, giving them their only lead of the match.
It was erased moments later when the Eagles coughed up the ball in the attacking end, and Fiji executed a switch followed by an offload to spring free for the go ahead score. The kick made it 12-7 going into the half.
Fiji started the second stanza with possession, and they capitalized with a try. Sevelonga Mocenacagi switched back hard on the wing, cutting powerfully inside Williams before stretching his legs for the long-range score.
The Eagles caught a break when a Fijian was sent off with a yellow card for dangerous aerial play on the restart. It took another Fijian penalty, but the Eagles finally scored via Carlin Isles off a long miss pass. The conversion cut the deficit to three at 17-14.
Tuwai erased the scored by setting up Fiji’s response. He stepped Hughes on the touchline, then fended Pinkelman before dishing for the decisive try.