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There are some compelling images from the USA women’s performance at the Hong Kong 7s.

Vanesha McGee looking oh-so-dangerous running onto a shot ball, and yet not quite getting the timing right with her teammates.

The teeth-rattling tackles from Amy Daniels and Jillion Potter, and the maddening clustering around those tackles that left massive holes for the Australians to run through.

There is so much potential, and they have athleticism, but it didn’t quite click and Australia smoked on the Eagles … at least this time.

“We are improving even if the scores sometimes do not show it,” said USA coach Ric Suggitt. “We will need to accelerate our learning curve before we head into London and Amsterdam.”

And the changes that need to be made? They have to challenge defenses more with their running, and they need to spread much, much faster on defense. Australia, among their bag of tricks, were light years faster in getting into a ball-poaching position after making a tackle. They would spring to their feet, show their hands were free and instantly get hands on ball. The Americans, possibly due to the speed of play in the games on home soil, just weren’t as fast.

Suggitt, of course, knows all this.

“The eight resident players will have to take ownership of the foundation that we are building,” he said. “Following that, we need to have the correct mix of experience players to help foster that growth.  I believe we are on the right track. Playing experience at this level is crucial, the more competitions that we can get at the international level will also help speed up the retention of game knowledge.”

Suggitt acknowledged the team “read the numbers game very well at the breakdown; it is an area that we will still concentrate on.”

So top four for the USA is an accurate measurement of their level of play. If one were to rank the women’s 7s national teams these days, you’d have to put the USA in a group along with Canada, England, New Zealand (who were not in Hong Kong) and Australia. That was exactly where they were in 2009, when they lost to Canada and England (twice) and yet ended up top three, while England and Canada did not.

This time, though, the USA has a bit of work to do to stay in that group, and there’s another group, featuring China, Netherlands, Spain, South Africa, and France, who are close to the top group.

There will be 16 teams at the 2013 World Cup, and with ten of those nations harboring legitimate thoughts of a medal, it will be a tournament where major errors can be deadly, and speed kills.