This weekend is the final stop on the 2008/2009 IRB 7’s World Series and it takes place in the home of 7’s rugby… Scotland. Held at Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh, the tournament is the perfect bookend to the wildly popular 7’s Series. To add further suspense, the IRB 7’s Circuit Championship is far from decided. With their home victory last weekend, England has moved within striking distance of Series leaders, South Africa. Another tournament win for England and a slip from South Africa and things could get very interesting. While they are far from the top of the standings, the Scottish team has brought in more firepower, in Scottish 15's International Sean Lamont, in hopes of finishing strong at home.
The USA squad took some lumps en route to a 1-5 record in London, but the team is the youngest ever to play on the IRB Series and is filled with budding talent. Team Captain, James Gillenwater, leads the raw group in Scotland as they look to rebound. The USA currently sits in ninth place in the standings, their highest ranking ever, and should finish in the Top 10, which will keep them as a “core” team headed into the 2009/2010 season. Teams with “core” status automatically participate in all Series tournaments.
If last weekend’s draw was scary for the USA, this weekend may classify as a nightmare. Drawn into the same pool with the USA is Series leaders South Africa, perennial juggernaut New Zealand, and the always troublesome France.
Here’s a look at the USA’s Day 1 opponents and how they have traditionally fared against them.
Up first for the USA is New Zealand. The two teams last met in Adelaide, Australia in April where the USA had their best ever outing against the Kiwi’s… a 27-5 loss. All-time, the USA is 0-13 against New Zealand and have been outscored 551-47 in those games. New Zealand not only packs a punch in terms of explosive scoring ability, but they also have rugby savvy that will be a true test for the young USA squad.
The USA follows that game with an even tougher task in South Africa. Currently in first place in the IRB 7’s standings, South Africa is looking to close out their first ever 7’s Series Title this weekend. The two teams last met in San Diego when the USA had South Africa on the ropes only to lose 15-14. The team that will play South Africa this weekend is a far cry from the team that put them to the test in San Diego. All-time, the USA 0-13 against South Africa and have been outscored 420-36. Just as with the New Zealand game, keeping the game respectable will be a boost for the USA.
The final Day 1 opponent for the USA is France. The two squads last met in the IRB Series in Dubai in November of 2008 when France won 22-12. The two teams also met in the Rugby 7’s World Cup in March where France surprised a loaded USA squad with an opening day defeat. All-time, the USA is 5-12 against France and have played some very close games in recent years. The USA will not want to go winless in pool play for a second straight tournament, so this one is a must-have for the USA.
“We have the toughest draw in Scotland. We will face New Zealand, South Africa and France, and after watching today, there is no doubt that the physicality of those games will be immense,” USA 7’s Head Coach Al Caravelli added. “We just have to focus on small goals. The strategic goal is the sum of the tactical goals.”
While the likelihood of the USA reaching the Cup Round is very slim, the order of business for this weekend should be an improved performance over last weekend. After enjoying their short lived life as a team to beat, the USA has returned to their underdog roots. This crop of players are in a great position to get much needed experience and begin their own journey to the heights of the 7’s world much as their predecessors went through just a few short years ago.
Headed into the action in Scotland the USA 7’s team has made one change to their roster. Blaine Scully has been brought into the squad to replace Zach Test who broke his ankle last weekend in London.
for Edinburgh, Scotland 7’s
1. Mark Bokhoven
2. James Gillenwater
3. Thretton Palamo
4. P J Komongnan
5. Taivalu Enosa
6. Mike Palefau
7. Alex Ross
8. Steve St Pierre
9. Marco Barnard
10. Zachary Pangelinan
11. Blaine Scully
12. Cory Blair
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