Preview: Las Vegas Sevens
WORLD SERIES ROUND FIVE: This year marks the 10th time the global circuit has arrived in the world-famous city of Las Vegas, Nevada.
That milestone is most certainly notable, but far from the most important heading into this year’s tournament.
For the first time ever, team United States enters the tournament as the defending champion, having assembled an improbable cup victory – despite myriad injuries along the way.
But that is not the only first.
This year also marks the first time that the Eagles enter tied atop the standings of the Sevens World Series.
Having reached four consecutive finals to start the season, the Americans are still desperate for their first gold medals since last year’s trip to Las Vegas.
The Eagles are on a historic pace. The highest the team has ever finished a season is fifth, in 2016–17.
This season, it is crucial to finish in the top four, as such a result will mean automatic qualification for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Failure to crack the top four will leave two narrow paths to the games that are certainly viable, but far more treacherous.
The four finals appearances also are unprecedented in the program’s history.
The team first reached a Final at the 2010 Adelaide Sevens, a severe loss to Samoa. It would not be until the 2015 London leg that team United States would return to a Final, that time coming away with the nation’s first cup. A third final was soon in the cards when the United States entered as the heavy favourite over rival Canada at the 2017 Singapore Sevens. Unfortunately for team United States, Canada prevailed that day. Last year’s triumph at the United States Sevens was just the Eagles’ fourth finals appearance.
Then came this season: four tournaments, four finals.
The team has doubled its all-time finals appearances and done what no other team has done this season: medal in all four tournaments.
Prior to Coach Mike Friday taking over, team United States had only been to three semifinals.
That is a mark he has now equalled or surpassed in every season since.
The pool draw is extremely favourable for a strong run.
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Competing in Pool B, team United States will start with Kenya on Friday, then meet in a rematch of the 2018 Final against Argentina. The Eagles crushed Kenya (41–0) last month in Sydney and will be expected to again come away with the win. Argentina may prove a stiffer test, but the Eagles are the red-hot side and carry the confidence of a 31–14 favourable result from Cape Town.
If team United States can finish Day One unblemished, there is a distinct possibility that the Eagles will have already secured the top seed in the pool. They will take on France on Saturday.
Should the Americans claim the top seed in Pool B, they will face the Pool C runner-up to close Day 2 – most likely England or South Africa.
Those two sides have combined for three bronze medals this season and are always tough competition.
Although England finished ahead of South Africa in the most recent tournament, it is probably a better match for the Eagles to take on England in the quarterfinal.
In order for the United States to make it five finals in five tournaments, they will likely need to get past Fiji in the semifinal, which will be a tall ask, given the results in the finals of Cape Town (15-29 loss) and Hamilton (0-38 loss).
On the other side of the draw, there is New Zealand – who sit atop the World Series rankings on equal points with United States.
They have finished runners-up on five occasions in Las Vegas and will be looking to go one better this weekend.
“Last year we were preparing for Commonwealth Games and didn’t have Las Vegas as a focus,” New Zealand coach Clark Laidlaw said.
“This year we are going over slightly early to help with the time difference and to get settled so hopefully that can get us on the front foot and set us up for a good week of training,” Laidlaw added.
The Kiwis are without injured players Scott Curry, Dylan Collier, Amanaki Nicole and Luke Masirewa.
South Africa, defending World Series champions, currently sit fourth and are in real danger of falling behind the front-runners New Zealand, United States and Fiji.
Newcomer Impi Visser and tour stalwart Sivive Soyizwapi believe all is not6 lost.
“We are all doing our best to contribute to the team and nothing will be different this weekend,” Soyizwapi said.
“We have some new faces and some new combinations, but the effort will not be new, we will still play for the greater good of the team.”
Visser has yet to taste a tournament win as a BlitzBok.
“We are getting there,” Visser said.
“The effort is good and the energy is there,” added Visser.
“The more experienced guys in the squad do help a lot to remind us about the standards and we are working hard to get to that final match. Just like I saw Las Vegas and the lights for the first time, that first time in a final is coming.
“I have dreamt of playing for the BlitzBoks and playing in finals, singing the national anthem. Not all of those things have come true yet, but it is only a matter of time, I believe. The guys have worked hard and we are pretty focussed to deliver our best performance of the series.”
Following the Las Vegas tournament, the team will travel to Canada for the Vancouver Sevens the following weekend.
(Kick-off is local time – GMT minus eight hours)
Friday, March 1
Australia v Wales – 15.00
Fiji v Scotland – 15.22
Spain v Canada – 15.44
New Zealand v Samoa – 16.06
France v Argentina – 16.28
United States v Kenya – 16.50
South Africa v Japan – 17.12
England v Chile – 17.34
Australia v Scotland – 18.01
Fiji v Wales – 18.23
Spain v Samoa – 18.45
New Zealand v Canada – 19.07
France v Kenya – 19.29
United States v Argentina – 19.51
South Africa v Chile – 20.13
England v Japan – 20.35
Saturday, March 2
Wales v Scotland – 11.30
Fiji v Australia – 11.52
Canada v Samoa – 12.14
New Zealand v Spain – 12.36
Argentina v Kenya – 12.58
United States v France – 13.26
Japan v Chile – 13.48
England v South Africa – 14.10