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The USA 7s rugby team has had a little time to lick its wounds after playing quite poorly in Dubai, losing five games and not being close in any game but one.

But they don’t have a lot of time, as another tournament starts on Saturday.

The Port Elizabeth 7s in South Africa has the USA in Pool C against Wales, New Zealand, and Portugal. It won’t get any easier.

“It’s a good thing that we’ve got another tournament this weekend and we’re able to put in some fixes and play again,” USA Head Coach Matt Hawkins told “If this was the second tournament of a group of two, going home after that would be hard. Overall we were disappointing. We learned that if you take care of the ball, you do well, and if you don’t, you can get into trouble.”

Chasing the game throughout the tournament, the USA players found themselves out of position and, as a result, often out of breath. With Hawkins now on the sidelines the veteran players needed to embrace their leadership roles. And the younger players?

“I think there was a lack of understanding in what we needed to do,” said Hawkins. “This was especially true on defense. Players weren’t in position. We can do things at the OTC, but when you get on the circuit, it’s completely different.”

Hawkins said he wants to see his team handle restarts better – especially when they receive – and their defensive organization better. Offensively, he said there were smatterings of good news. Against Fiji, they kept the ball for a long period in the first half and entered the break tied 5-5. It wasn’t pretty, said Hawkins, and the players went into too much contact, but they worked hard and kept the ball away from the Fijians.

Not so in the second half.

So this week the players spent an extra day in Dubai before flying out to South Africa. Monday was a solid day of training and Tuesday was their hardest day. Wednesday will include a morning session, then a scrimmage against Zimbabwe, and some work in the gym.

That is the crucial three days of work, as Hawkins will give the players a day of rest on Thursday and then Friday is the captain’s run.

“We know we have about 20 things we could be working on and improving upon, but we need to distil it down,” said Hawkins. “We’re getting back to the basics on defense and on attack. We’re simplifying some things. And we’re getting it down to three simple messages.”

And those are?

Tackle Rate
Ruck Efficiency

Ball-handling is easy – don’t drop the ball, don’t lose control of the ball, and you reduce turnovers and maintain continuity. If you maintain continuity, then you can tire out a defense and score.

Tackle rate also is clear – missed tackles lead to tries. Missed assignments lead to tries.

Ruck efficiency means that if one player rucks well, the other players don’t have to get involved and are available to attack the defense. That’s been part of the steep learning curve for younger players, who don’t necessarily know the games played at the point of contact.

In the end, for the new coach and the young players and the veterans thrown into bigger leadership roles, it’s all been a rough lesson. The second pop quiz comes thing weekend.