A battered and bruised USA Sevens team pulled it together down the stretch to claim the Shield at the Wellington, New Zealand Sevens tournament.
After finishing 1-2 in pool play, the USA dropped their Bowl Quarterfinal to France 21-10 and fell to the Shield competition. There, the USA upended Scotland 19-12 behind two tries from Nese Malifa to reach the Shield Final against Tonga. The game was a repeat of Day One of the competition where the USA knocked off Tonga to get their first pool play victory of the 2009/2010 IRB Season.
USA took an early lead with a Matt Hawkins try, but Tonga fought back with two converted tries to push their lead to 14-5 midway through the second half.
USA came right back and got within striking distance with a Nick Edwards try that was set up by a nice cross-field kick from Nese Malifa. On the restart, a excellent tackle from Paul Emerick put Tonga deep in their own half. A turnover later, Emerick got the ball and found a seam to score with seconds left on the clock.
Malifa converted and the USA won 17-14 in dramatic fashion.
USA failed to come away with IRB points, but their 3-3 record and Shield Title marks their best performance of the season.The pressure is now on the squad to come up big in Las Vegas for a variety of reasons.
This coming weekend, America has their turn in hosting the IRB Sevens Series as the the teams decsend on Las Vegas for this biggest weekend on the American rugby radar.
Injuries to Mark Bokhoven and Ata Malifa will facilitate a roster change heading into Las Vegas.
Just dismissed last week from the squad, former-NFL player and Olympic hurdler Bennie Brazell and young speedster Dmitri Ethmiou are the front runners to fill the void. With the tournament played on home soil, former USA Sevens stalwart Thretton Palamo may also be a possiblity to join the team as he is now playing rugby at the University of Utah.
Las Vegas serves as the midway point for the IRB Series. For the USA, the tournament presents the team’s best chance to come away with some IRB points. The team has traditionally fared very well on home soil, and they certainly need a boost this season.
Let’s not forget that the USA is in danger of losing their “Core” member status on the IRB Circuit.
As of this weekend, ten teams have notched points on the series with Canada pulling in at 10th place with six points. Other Core Teams such as Scotland, Tonga, and France have yet to notch points, but it is inevitable that one or all of them will at some point.
The USA is going to need at least two Cup Quarterfinal appearances to have a hope of retaining their Core member status on the IRB Circuit.
Dropping back at this point will be a major blow to the USA Sevens program. The US Olympic Committe will also be watching closely since they are slowly becoming more involved in the progress and direction of the team.
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