As the March 7s tournaments in Hong Kong, Tokyo, & China fade into April training for the wind-up of the 2012-13 men’s & women’s 7s series tournaments, reflections on what appeared to be successful March efforts cause some concerns that Eagle sides are not in form to achieve the main goal. In March the NZ women’s coach Sean Horan in an interview only 4 days before the China 7s declared that “… it is all about Rio.” There are very few players, if any, who disagree with Coach Horan. Where are the Eagles in relation to chances for Olympic success?
After a disappointing Hong Kong tournament at which the men’s side managed only one winning effort against Scotland in a bowl quarterfinal match (20-12), they won 3 and tied 1 of their 6 matches in Tokyo to win the plate. On their way to capturing the plate they beat Wales (24-22), Fiji (21-10), and Scotland (17-0). They are currently precariously tied with Scotland at 12th place in the HSBC Sevens Series standings. The precariousness is because the Eagles must capture 12th place all to themselves in Glasgow on May 4th, or they’ll fall into the relegation tournament in London the following week. If they don’t finish in the top 3 in the relegation tournament, the USA will not be a core team in the 2013-14 HSBC Sevens tournaments . As the host of the 2014 Vegas 7s they’ll get to play against the “big boys” there. In the 2014 Hong Kong 7s they’ll have to finish as one of the top 4 teams out of the second tier sides to get to the relegation tourney in London 2014, and then finish in the top 3 to climb back into the core teams for the 2014-15 HSBC Sevens Series. That worst case relegation scenario is only remotely possible but there is a reasonable chance the men will end up in the relegation tourney in London in May this year.
To definitely qualify for Rio, though, the men need to crack being one of the 4 best teams in the HSBC Sevens Series or be able to consistently beat Canada. Neither of those options seems remotely possible. They continue to flounder at times and fluctuate in the HSBC standings between 12th and 15th. The compacting of England, Wales, & Scotland into Great Britain for the Olympics would move the USA up to a current position of 11th . They have only won 1 of their last 5 matches against Canada. USA men’s qualification hopes will probably depend on how the IRB and Intl Olympic Committee work out some repechage system for the fringe sides that hover around the 12th-16th places: USA, Spain, Portugal, Japan, Russia, Tonga, Georgia, Zimbabwe. The Eagles performance in Japan was encouraging, but the possibility of not being invited to Rio is still very real.
The USA women finished a very respectable 4th in the China 7s losing to New Zealand in the semi-final and Canada in the 3rd/4th play-off. The women remain solidly one of the 4-6 best sides in the world, but they continue to struggle against New Zealand, England, & Canada. For most of the Women Eagles the ultimate measure of success will be to medal in Rio and there is not a medal for 4th place. Qualification won’t be an issue for the women. Finding the 12 players who have the defensive tenacity and offensive flair to beat Canada, New Zealand, or an English side (infused with emerging Irish stars to make a very strong Great Britain team) will be the challenge.
March brought Eagle success, but also pointed out that there is still a gap between where the teams are and where they need to be to achieve their main goal.