On the way to the airport for my flight to 2015 Vegas 7s I stopped at a thrift store to buy a book. I chose the 1986 edition of A Clockwork Orange. In the introduction the author, Anthony Burgess, tells how the edition published in the USA in 1962 had his final 21st chapter chopped by the publisher. For Burgess the final chapter was important because Alex, the protagonist, matures and chooses to turn away from his juvenile life of violence. The film by Kubrick based on the 1962 version forever carved the ultra-violent Beethoven loving Alex as a character who would never reform, but for Burgess the character evolved. In the final chapter Alex realizes that, “human energy is better expended on creation than destruction.”
The USA men’s 7s team performance in Wellington last weekend showed moments of great promise, but the continuing proclivity to run hard and straight into opposition with no appearance of looking for timely off-loads or way to maintain good possession will not move the Eagles to the next level. Coach Friday’s positive influence is overwhelmingly apparent. The Eagles are maturing. Hopefully in Vegas we will evolve into a team that expends much more energy on creative offense and less on intentional destruction of opposition.
It is an almost pointless exercise to extrapolate from one tournie to the next based on previous score differences. That said, here is my extrapolation. The Eagles’ pool in Vegas (South Africa, Japan, and Portugal) is probably the softest in what is becoming an increasingly difficult series to find an easy pool. The USA topped their pool in New Zealand which included South Africa. They lost to the Springboks in pool play (26-14), but South Africa’s surprising loss to France allowed the USA to top the pool based on point differential. The Eagles cruised past Japan 40-5. The last time the USA faced Portugal was in Australia last October. They won 33-0, but Portugal is a definite threat. In Wellington last weekend Portugal defeated Canada 26-0 in the Bowl Quarterfinal. With a boost from home field advantage the Eagles should, for a second consecutive series tournament, emerge from pool play as one of the 8 teams competing for the Cup.
With increasing confidence in their skills and the excellent growth they are showing under the guidance of Coach Friday, hopefully they will eliminate the indiscipline which saw them blow a 15 point lead over Scotland in the final minutes of their Cup Quarterfinal match in Wellington to lose 19-15 and let victory over Fiji slip away 12-10 in the final minutes of the Plate Semifinal. Their current 8th place standing in the series could be their best ever finish if they hold on to or hopefully improve upon this. Cracking the top 4 sides to automatically qualify for the Olympics is very doubtful, but they are looking more comfortably like a side that can defeat Canada in the NACRA Olympic qualifying tournament in North Carolina in June.