The developmental side of the Men’s Eagles Sevens, coached by Paul Holmes and Nese Malifa, swept its pool Thursday ahead of a one-off Cup Quarterfinal defeat of Northeast Academy Friday. The Quarterfinal victory set up a possible two matches Saturday inside Sam Boyd Stadium, which has been hosting the fifth leg of the 2015-16 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series – HBSC USA Sevens.
Experienced Series veteran Shalom Suniula played sparingly throughout the first two days of action at the LVI, nursing a previous injury. He helped buoy the team’s Quarterfinal performance for a the majority of the first half against Northeast Academy, while the coaching staff decided it would be better for the player to not risk further aggravating the injury ahead of the run-in to the Rio 2016 Olympic Summer Games.
Captain Peter Tiberio led by example throughout the tournament, and showcased his own individual skill from a midfield tap in the Semifinal against Daveta Fiji Saturday morning. He and Pat Blair combined to turn the Fijian development side sideways, and stepped his way through the defensive line all the way to within three meters of the try line. The Falcons followed him and worked the ball quickly to the wing for Matai Leuta to score.
Thretton Palamo, who, along with Leuta, was with the Eagles on their last tour to Australia and New Zealand, chased a Fiji break before the opposition finished off the attack to level the match at 5-5. The Falcons initially took the ensuing kickoff cleanly, but gave up possession and a try after the hooter had sounded.
The Falcons regrouped in the break and a strong run from Palamo through three defenders gave the team the field position necessary for ConRoy Smith to score on the wing in the ninth minute. Smith doubled his tally a minute later from midfield, faking two defenders one direction before a sprint to the corner.
The team intelligently finished off the 17-10 win with patience, knowing a Fijian side could score at any moment, but rued an injury to Leuta that kept him from the Final.
“Playing against a Fijian side – it’s always going to be physical,” Blair said at the end of the day. “I think we strayed away from our system for probably 75 percent of the match trying to out-physical them. We didn’t expect to see them in the Semifinal, but that was a great Semifinal. Glad we came out on top.”
Froggies Midol, a French side, defeated a strong German team that had put up more than 100 points through pool play to reach the Final against the Falcons. The U.S. again started the match with a quick tap at midfield, and Tiberio would have scored from another set play with Blair had the Central Washington University graduate not been called for crossing by the match official.
It took four minutes, but the Falcons were strong in defense to get a turnover and Davis dummied a pass to accelerate through a gap in the middle of the field for the opening try. Froggies scored through a shifty athlete with pace on the next possession, but Joey Sok used Palamo as a decoy along the wing before the end of the half to put the Falcons back in the lead at 12-7.
Froggies drew several Falcons defenders to one side of the pitch in a ninth-minute attack, and finally found a way to get the ball to the other side outside Palamo for a match-leveling try. The French team conceded several penalties in quick succession around midfield, and Tiberio backed himself to run to the corner for the match-winning, 17-12, score.
The Falcons finished their Final minutes before the Eagles took to the pitch for their final match of pool play Saturday, a loss to South Africa. While half of the team competing in the LVI has played on the Series and all 12 players want to be on the Series rather than playing other developmental sides, each knew the game plan heading into the invitational tournament and potential for national team selection following the weekend.
“That’s the end goal: everyone here wants to play for the Eagles,” Blair said. “A lot of years, Falcons teams have been like that, where they stray away from the team aspect, just going individual because you want to make the Eagles side. We stressed that, as a team, we weren’t going to do that, and we were going to play as a team.
“Whoever got selected [for a call-up to the Eagles] was going to get selected based on that and we were going to show [Mike] Friday and [Chris] Brown that we were going to come together as a team, and I think we did that this weekend.”
The USA Falcons presented by Penn Mutual, featuring members of the Women’s Eagles Sevens player pool, had the day off Saturday, and will play the Women’s Elite 7s division Cup Semifinal against France Select Sunday at 10 a.m. PT inside Sam Boyd Stadium.
USA Falcons | Las Vegas Invitational
Aaron Davis – 1823 / Tiger Rugby
Seth Halliman – Central Washington University
Tua Laei – Brigham Young University / Rugby Utah
Ben Leatigaga – U.S. Army World-Class Athlete Program
Jope Motokana – Seattle Saracens
Joey Sok – Columbus Rugby Club / Tiger Rugby
Peter Tiberio (C)
USA Falcons | Las Vegas Invitational
v. Florida RDA – W 27-0
v. France Development – W 21-12
v. Tumatauenga – W 24-7
Cup QF v. Northeast Academy – W 24-12
Cup SF v. Devita Fiji – W 17-10
Cup Final v. Froggies Midol – W 17-12