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Wellington 7s kicks off Thursday evening American time. First up for the Eagles at 6:21 p.m. ET is Japan, then it’s France at 9:14 p.m. and South Africa at 12:10 a.m.
The pool is manageable, as the Eagles are 2-0 against Japan this season, 1-1 against France and 0-1 against South Africa. Conventional wisdom would have the Japan game being a win, the France tilt being a 50/50 proposition, and the South Africa game being a loss.
In arguably the USA’s worst game so far this season, the Eagles beat Japan, 14-12. They trailed the Cherry Blossoms 12-0 at halftime, and Folau Niua and Maka Unufe converted tries in the second half saved them from embarrassment. Japan has just one win on the circuit this year, a shocker over Samoa.
“I’m always scared of banana skins. I’m always scared of taking people for granted, so we’ll be hugely wary of Japan,” said USA coach Mike Friday. “We didn’t play how we should play and they nearly caused us some problems, so we’re going to have to prepare and plan and be sure that we’re on top of our game against Japan first up, and then we’ll worry about our next game against France.”
Friday’s charges beat France, 31-15, in Australia, but fell, 24-15, to Les Bleus in Dubai. The aggregate score suggests the Eagles are the better team, but France is always dangerous.
“We’ve had good games against them, and we let ourselves down a bit against them in Dubai,” said Friday of France. “If we continue to learn, and we implement our improved learning from the last camp, then we have every opportunity to come out and put on a good performance.”
The USA has played South Africa just once this year, losing 26-0 at the Blitzbokke home tournament in Port Elizabeth. Not a flattering score line, but the Eagles trailed just 5-0 at halftime, and if it weren’t for some unfavorable calls, they might have been better off. Considering how dominant South Africa has been this season, the shutout wasn’t that terrible a result.
“That South Africa game will be interesting, because whilst we came unstuck against South Africa in Port Elizabeth, if you actually watch the game tape, for 10 minutes we were very much in the game and if it weren’t for some, shall we say 50/50 calls that didn’t go our way, we probably pushed South Africa the hardest that anybody pushed them that weekend,” recalled Friday.
“We’re not fearful of South Africa – far from it. We respect them immensely, and they’re a fantastic outfit and unstoppable, but we genuinely are starting to believe in ourselves.
“We’ve got every right to take the South Africans head on and meet them toe to toe. That will be the plan. We’ll fear nobody. We’ll respect everybody, but we’ve got to be prepared to work hard every second of every minute. I think if we do that, we certainly have the skills to progress from the group.”
In the spring of 2012, during the Eagles’ best stretch of tournaments in recent memory, and maybe all time, they scored two wins over South Africa in the same tournament – London. Coupled with the fact that the USA is the only team in the world that can come close to matching the Blitzbokke speed, the pool finale should make for an intriguing encounter.