It wasn’t the Plate Final, not the Bowl Final, and definitely not the Shield Final. The USA Sevens team has made history in Adelaide with their first ever trip to a Cup Final in an IRB World Series event.
In their 52nd tournament appearance the USA has finally broke through to heights that many have dreamed of for years.
Unfortunately, the dream run came to an end at the hands of Samoa, who has now won two consecutive IRB Tournaments.
The USA’s path on the final day of the tournament started with an extra-time victory over Wales. Zach Pangelinan crossed over with time expired to give the USA a dramatic 12-10 win in the Cup Quarterfinal.
The USA followed up with Argentina in the Semifinals and quickly put them under pressure. First half tries from Shalom Suniula and Nick Edwards put the USA ahead 14-0 going into halftime.
Nese Malifa converted his own try to start the second half to extend the lead to 21-0.
Argentina attempted a comeback with two tries to cut the lead to 21-12, but that was all that they could muster.
USA captain Kevin Swiryn closed out the scoring, and the game, with his fourth try of the tournament to seal the 28-12 win and the USA’s first ever trip to the finals.
In the final, Samoa got off to a fast start and immediately put the USA under pressure. Fautua Otto opened up the scoring with a try in the corner to give Samoa a 5-0 lead within the first two minutes of play.
The USA's defense held strong as the team slowly began to put some pressure on Samoa. The hard work paid off as the USA tied the game with a try by Nick Edwards that was set up by a nifty chip and chase from Nese Malifa.
Samoa bounced back almost immediately as star player Mikalae Pesamino cut a path through the USA's defense for a try underneath the goal posts. The conversion gave Samoa the lead 12-5 just before halftime. Pesamino nearly added another score just before half with a kick and chase that displayed Pesamino’s impressive speed.
Trailing just 12-5 going into the second half put the USA within striking distance of the heavily favored Samoa.
Samoa found their stride in the second half adding tries from Ofisa Treviranus, Otto, Pesamino, and Uale Mai to scream out to a 38-5 lead.
The pressure of playing in their first Final caught up to the USA as small mistakes began to set in and the squad’s tackle rate fell. Despite trailing, the USA battled all the way to the finish and the team was rewarded with one last score as Zach Pangelinan crossed over to close the scoreline at 38-10 in favor of Samoa.
“We didn’t play our best and they [Samoa] did,” said Swiryn.
A disappointing finish, but yet another indicator that the USA is breaking through at the highest level of sevens. The trip to the Finals also garnered the USA twenty more IRB points and puts the team firmly in position to return as an IRB “Core” team next season.
"Core" members of the IRB Series are teams that compete in all eight IRB Series tournaments. The USA's return, as core members, has coincided with their rise towards the top level of teams in the world.
USA Head Coach Al Caravelli summed it up, “we continue to make improvements, and that’s our goal for this squad. When we maintain possession and stick to our game plan, it doesn’t matter who we play, the scoreline reflects it.”
The team rides the high note onto Hong Kong where they are pooled with Fiji, Portugal, and Thailand. As favorable of a draw as the USA has seen all season, the team cannot overlook their less experienced opponents.
Another trip to the Quarterfinals may be in order for the USA. The USA has been notoriously slow starters in regards to each leg of the IRB Series. They tend to perform even better in the second tournament of each leg. If that is any indication, next weekend in Hong Kong should be another great one for the USA.
Champions from IRB World Series from Adelaide, Australia
Plate: New Zealand