Are rugby sevens fans about to see the emergence of the biggest force on the HSBC World Rugby 2018/19 Sevens Series? By the evidence from the opening three legs of this year’s World Series, it appears that Mike Friday and the USA Eagles 7s on the cusp of Success.
Soaring to the top of the Sevens Series standings, and retaining that lead – now equal with New Zealand Sevens champions Fiji – the USA side is demonstrating the hidden depth and prospects that some have spoken of for years.
This comes down to several factors, and if the trend continues, then surely both of the US teams competing on the HSBC Sevens Series can reach unprecedented new heights.
USA Eagles 7s on the cusp of Success
One of the key figures in the development of rugby sevens in the United States has no doubt been their current men’s head coach, Mike Friday. The effervescent Englishman is one of the more animated figures on the circuit, and has brought with him an enthusiasm since he was appointed in 2014. For many, he is credited with bringing the sleeping giant [which is US Rugby] into line with its goals and objectives like never before.
Being a former player, his understanding of the part which all seven players contribute to the game has given him the wealth of experience to direct both the men’s and women’s programs [assisting with the women]. His part has been instrumental is progressing the side from ‘once in every while competitor’ to in 2018/19, proving to be the most consistent performers of the season to date.
Last Word on Rugby had two conversations with Mike Friday, mostly concerning the fitness and impact which a fearsome injury to Perry Baker would have on the squad. In the first interaction, Mike was none the wiser. “He’s straight to hospital, we won’t know anything til later sorry,” and he would have gone directly down to the team’s locker room to coordinate a strategy to counter the blow to his side.
By the time LWOR had time to catch up with Friday later that day, his mood had changed. “It’s a double-fracture to the jaw. Perry’s flying home but that’s football isn’t it.
“You just have to step up and the guys have already done that [in winning their second game against Samoa]”.
His team had successfully dealt with the blow of losing such an attacking player, adapted and performed to their new standards as normal – no panic, no loss in performance. And in reaching the Cup final, they certainly put to bed any doubts media had (thought out aloud) that the US team were finished. Not this time.
In Hamilton, it was the players, as well as their management, that should be credited most. Heads held high, they no longer rely on one or two star-players anymore. The rest of the 12-man squad regrouped, refocused and looked at their end goal – to win. They very nearly accomplished that, unfortunately being stung hard in the Cup final…..but they gained much more respect along the way!
Silver Medal brings huge respect from US Eagles 7s supporters
Leading names within the US Eagles 7s squad can be proud of how the entire group reacted. Madison Hughes, Carlin Isles, Ben Pinkelton and Martin Iosefo (to name just a few) who regrouped to bring home a silver medal.
Earlier in the week, Hughes (main picture) explained to World Rugby how his side has developed. “We have talked about it, and we have had odd tournaments where we’ve peaked and done well. We’ve started the season well, and now it’s about having that consistency of performance where we are always around those top teams.”
Proud of @USARugby players and @MikeFriday09 for reaching 3rd consecutive @HSBC_Sport 7s final. Shows how we have grown. Tonight was a stumble but a big step towards the big picture of growing the game in the US and Top4 consistency.
— Phil Greening (@PhilGreening) January 27, 2019
Consistency places them equal on 57 points after three legs of the World Series. Something the side has improved on over the tenure of Mike Friday (see below), which is a credit to the quality of resourses and systems that now sees the men ranked first-equal, and the women’s team ranked third in their HSBC Sevens Series.
My first Commentator's Corner 🎙️ on @FloRugby looks at @WorldRugby7s history for @USARugby & the brilliant @MikeFriday09 together with @Dubai7s @CapeTown7s @NZ_Sevens recap! Read 📖 https://t.co/vRSyGfKAXv #EaglesUnited pic.twitter.com/FfyeGhrleY
— Dallen Stanford 🎙️ (@TheRugbyCorner) January 23, 2019
For any side to meet their objectives. And for the US Eagles 7s, what are they? Clearly, it is consistency. But as much, it is gaining the confidence of the rugby sevens public. In a sports market dominated by NFL and NBA, having positive news reach their supporters that the side had collected a third silver medal, was a superb result. It reinforces their credentials as title contenders – something that US sports fans respect.
Not getting too far ahead of themselves is now the next step. Like Naomi Osaka in the Australian tennis Open final, where she had ‘match point’ but failed to capture the moment, taking a deep breath and being self-assured but not overconfident, is a key ingredient to the USA Eagles 7s achievements to date.
USA Eagles 7s can learn from the humility of Fiji
While ‘winners are grinners’ in sport, there is still a place for common values. Something that Mike Friday would be well aware of. Being personally successful at the Hong Kong Sevens tournament as an England player, his side were only once able to turn that advantage into a World title.
Humble, appreciative of where they are and prepared to credit the fans, god and all the elements that drive the team, is what makes Fiji such an inspiration.
The lesson is, to be humble in success. To take it in stride, and not become either comfortable or too self-assured. To respect the steps needed; the pool matches, the quarterfinal and the next steps to success. Friday was quoted below after his sides brush with Scotland on the weekend; being respectful and sticking to your processes brings success.
— World Rugby Sevens (@WorldRugby7s) January 27, 2019
The team then proceeded to defeat New Zealand on their own home soil; a first time for all the players within the group. The satisfaction felt by players, management and supporters at that point is an example of the stage that the US side are at. Reaching new heights of success, showing consistency and professionalism that means an injury like Perry Baker’s was not disruptive. The team turned their disadvantage into self-motivation that worked in their favor.
That will be a huge lesson learned after the New Zealand Sevens.
We agree with the commentators on this one.
— USA Rugby (@USARugby) January 27, 2019
Sleeping Giant? That was the prediction of years past. No longer sleeping. The USA Eagles 7s teams are now definite rivals to the likes of New Zealand, South Africa, and Fiji. They must still be wary of their equals; Canada, England, Australia, Kenya, and Argentina, but with more consistency, the men’s team could well earn one ‘golden reward’ this season…..automatic qualification to the 2020 Olympic Games.
And that stage would bring the highest honours of any sportsperson’s aspirations. A medal on ‘the biggest stage of them all’.
Mike Friday will be proudest if his team can play as well as they have, for the next seven legs. Not getting too far ahead of themselves is important now. But in saying that, recognizing all the above factors in rugby sevens, the times they are a Changin!
Read more about Mike Friday, in previous interviews with Last Word on Sports.
“Main photo credit”
Embed from Getty Images