A disappointing result considering the bronze-medal performance in Moscow at Rugby World Cup Sevens 2013.
But Suggitt confidently says: It’s all starting to come together…
Via usarugby.org Seventh place is a familiar position for the Women’s Eagles Sevens. That is where Ric Suggitt’s squad finished the 2013-14 Womens Sevens World Series. In the Series’ inaugural season (2012-13), the Eagles gained 48 points in four legs for fourth place.
Olympic Training is now the focus for the squad…
Of the 12 young women who traveled to Russia, however, only three – Victoria Folayan, Kelly Griffin, and Kathryn Johnson – are currently with the team at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif.
A 12-12 draw with Ireland, in its first appearance on the circuit, preceded a narrow victory against Fiji and a shutout loss to New Zealand in the 2013 tournament in the United Arab Emirates. The draw ended up helping the Eagles progress to the Cup round, where Russia dealt the Eagles a second consecutive shutout defeat. England’s 12-10 victory in the Plate Semifinal sent the Eagles to the seventh-place match against Brazil, which Suggitt’s side won, 26-24.
This year, the Eagles impressed tournament commentators and viewers alike with a 17-10 victory against Russia, who finished fifth in the 2013-14 standings, in the first match at 7he Sevens Stadium.
“It demonstrated that we can play against competitive teams and win a close game,” Suggitt recalled.
“That’s a real positive going forward for the squad. That’s something they should be turning back to and referring to in their preparations for the next tournament; knowing they can play good rugby against well-organized, physical teams.”
New Zealand proved stiffer competition for the Eagles, though tries from Folayan and Jessica Javelet gave the team a 14-10 lead just after halftime. The Black Ferns’ class shone through, however, for a 24-19 victory.
The match was not quite as reminiscent of the Men’s Eagles Sevens’ RWC Sevens 2013 match against New Zealand, in which the All Blacks Sevens overcame a 19-5 deficit to knock the Eagles out of the tournament, but the signs of a team on the rise were visible to the coaching staff.
“Sometimes [in sevens] it’s just that bounce of the ball,” the head coach said.
“I thought that the girls again played some really good rugby against New Zealand and I thought we had a couple of opportunities where we may have gotten that bounce or made that pass that we should have made to keep us on top. New Zealand has that ability and demonstrated it, even in the [Cup] Final when they were down, 17-0, against Australia to come back and beat them, 19-17.”
The Eagles’ competitiveness blossomed in the final match of pool play against China, who had already surrendered 90 points by the time the third match began. Scoring early and often, the Eagles crushed China and set a World Rugby record in a 61-0 win. To compare, New Zealand shut out China, 43-0, and Russia won, 47-5.
“China didn’t stop playing rugby,” Suggitt said. “When you watch the film again – they chased everything, they went after everything. We just happened to put it together in that last game of the night. Those are the fun moments for the players.
“When you’re standing there watching as a coach, you’re so happy for them that all of those things that they work on in practice came true for them during that game.”
‘Fun’ was the subject of Suggitt’s half-time speech to the team.
With a 35-0 lead, the head coach knew the job was only halfway finished and posed the following question to his team: Is rugby fun?
“Playing sports is just flat-out fun. You’re only young once; you only get a brief opportunity to play,” Suggitt said. “I had to ask them then because that was clear evidence that if they are on task and they are all on the same wavelength for that game, anything is possible. Every pass went our way, every break went our way, and the girls were very bang-on in their decision making.”
If the U.S. was seen as a top-four contender following pool play, the team that took the field against Canada on Day Two wore different shades of red, white, and blue. The Canadians put on a clinic of their own in Dubai with a 36-0 win in the Cup Quarterfinal, keeping the Eagles off of the scoreboard and away from threatening positions on the pitch.
Canada has been a thorn in the Eagles’ backside since the Series began…
With the neighbors holding a 6-1-0 record in seven meetings since the Women’s Sevens Series began in the fall of 2012. To make matters worse, three wins and the draw occurred at the respective U.S. stop on the circuit (Houston 7s, Atlanta 7s).
The loss sent the Eagles to the Plate Semifinal against Fiji, who had its own difficulties in Dubai. As the second-best third-place finisher at the end of pool play, Fiji qualified for the Cup round and eventually went on to lose to England in the Plate Final. The defeat of the Eagles proved the better team in any given matchup can lose on any given day, but that was hardly consolation.
“I think we panicked a bit and started chasing the ball at the wrong times,” Suggitt said. “The girls do a lot of good work studying both on and off the field at the Olympic Training Center; now what we have to do as we gain that intelligence is be able to make those mature decisions on the field – when to commit, when not to commit, when to isolate a ball carrier, when to double team, when to stay in control for someone to come across. That’s all game experience.
“They’re not any fitter than us, they don’t pass the ball any better than us, but they made better decisions with the ball when they had it and we were caught chasing that game. Again, that’s the learning process in our evolution.”
The tournament ended on a bright note as the Eagles defeated Russia in the seventh-place match.
It was not just sunshine and rainbows, however; the match came down to last-second conversion kick. Eight tries were scored in the match and the only player on the pitch able to kick the ball through the posts was Alev Kelter, making her one conversion the match-winner.
Seventh place in Dubai may be the same result for the Eagles, but the team was able to compete in most of its matches this year.
Kelter, who accounted for 38 points in Dubai, was playing in just her third tournament with the Eagles. Javelet and Johnson also made their third appearances on the circuit, while Hannah Lopez made her second and Joanne Fa’avesi and Melissa Fowler made their debuts.
The additions of the American Rugby Pro Rugby Training Center and Serevi Institute to USA Rugby’s Olympic Development Academy will give more young women the opportunity to raise their standard of play with the Olympics and Rugby World Cup Sevens each less than four years away.
High Performance Camps at the Olympic Training Center will be held in the new year to allow those athletes to fight for a spot on the national team, as well.
“I’ll tell you another thing that’s been really good: having [Alex Magleby] as high performance director,” Suggitt said. “He’s always available for an email, always available for a phone call. He’s always willing to listen to our concerns and he’s provided answers. For me, Nigel [Melville] getting “Mags” to be the high performance director for the men and women has been beneficial.”
The Women’s Eagles Sevens continue their trek to the Rio 2016 Olympic Summer Games at São Paulo Sevens Feb. 7-8, 2015.
Follow @USAWomen7s on Twitter for more updates from the team at the Olympic Training Center.