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United States national rugby sevens team

United States
UnionUSA Rugby
Nickname(s)The Eagles
Coach(es)Mike Friday
Captain(s)Madison Hughes
Most capsFolau Niua (68)
Top scorerMadison Hughes (1,410)
Most triesPerry Baker (186)
Team kit
Change kit
World Cup Sevens
Appearances7 (First in 1993)
Best result2nd (2019)
Official website
usarugby.org/mens-eagles-sevens/

The United States national rugby sevens team competes in international rugby sevens competitions. The main competition they play every year is the World Rugby Sevens Series, a series of ten tournaments played around the globe that includes the USA Sevens tournament in Las Vegas every spring. The team also participates in major tournaments every four years, such as the Summer Olympics, the Rugby World Cup Sevens, and the Pan American Games. The national sevens team is organized by USA Rugby, and the team has been led by Head Coach Mike Friday since 2014.

The Eagles have been a core team in the World Series and finished in the top twelve each season since 2008–09. The Eagles' best season to date in the Sevens Series has been the 2018–19 where they finished second. The best result in a single Sevens tournament was winning the 2018 USA Sevens and the 2015 London Sevens. In 2018 the Eagles won their first USA Sevens tournament at Sam Boyd stadium in Las Vegas. Successes in quadrennial events include winning bronze medals at the 2011 and 2015 Pan American Games, and winning the 2015 NACRA Sevens to clinch a spot in the 2016 Olympic Games.

The United States traditionally used the sevens team to prepare players for the XV-side. Since January 2012, due to increased attention generated by rugby's return to the Olympics in 2016, the national sevens team has turned professional, with the team extending paid full-time contracts to its core players. The national sevens team has drawn a number of crossover athletes from American football and track, the most prominent examples being Perry Baker and Carlin Isles. The U.S. also sometimes fields a developmental team, the USA Falcons, in several tournaments.

World Rugby Sevens Series

Early years (1999–2011)

The World Rugby Sevens Series, which is played every year from October through May, is the principal event in which the U.S. national sevens team plays. The US has competed in the World Series every year since the event's inaugural 1999–2000 season. The U.S. team had some initial success during the early years of the tournament led by Jovesa Naivalu, who held the record for most tries scored until broken by Zack Test. However, the U.S. team struggled in the five seasons from 2002-03 through 2006-07.

The U.S. national rugby sevens team in Wellington for the 2008 New Zealand Sevens

The 2007-08 season was a turning point for the US team, qualifying for 6 of the 8 series tournaments, and notching a notable win against Samoa en route to placing sixth at the 2007 South Africa Sevens. The team was led by Chris Wyles who scored 26 tries on the season, and was the top try scorer at the 2008 USA Sevens with 8 tries. The IRB rewarded the Eagles' success by promoting the US to "core" team status for the 2008-09 season, meaning that the US automatically plays in all 8 tournaments without having to go through qualifying rounds.[1]

The 2008-09 season was the breakout season for the US, finishing 11th on the season. The high point of the team's season was the home tournament, the 2009 USA Sevens. Nese Malifa's 30 points in that tournament helped the US notch wins against Australia and Kenya to reach the semi-finals, their best result ever on home soil.

The 2009-10 season saw continued improvement, with the team finishing the season in 10th place. Led by Matt Hawkins and Nese Malifa, the team finished ninth to win the Bowl in the 2010 USA Sevens. The US then advanced to their first ever Cup final at the 2010 Adelaide Sevens, scoring upset wins against England, Wales and Argentina.

The team took a small step back during the 2010-11 season with a 12th-place finish. A number of key players were unavailable for most or all of the season, including the previous season's leading try scorer Nick Edwards and leading point scorer Nese Malifa. Additionally, a number of competing teams had moved to professional status, leaving the mostly amateur US team struggling to keep pace.

Professional era begins (2011–2014)

The 2011-12 season saw significant changes for the U.S. The team turned professional in January 2012, with contracts for up to 15 players.[2] The change to professional status did not bring immediate improvement. Head coach Al Caravelli resigned, and Alex Magleby was selected as the new head coach. The US finished the 2011-12 season in 11th, a slight improvement over the previous season, even though the team did not reach the quarterfinals of any of the 9 tournaments. Bright spots for the season included the emerging leadership of Shalom Suniula (captain), Zack Test (team leading 21 tries) and Colin Hawley.[3]

The 2012–13 Series saw a slightly different format, with 15 core teams instead of 12, but with the possibility of relegation for the teams that finished in the bottom three. The U.S. got off to a slow start, ranked last among the 15 core teams after the first two legs. The U.S. saw improvement, however, reaching the quarterfinals in five of the last seven tournaments, and finishing in the top 6 during the last three tournaments. The U.S. finished fifth to win the Plate Final at the 2013 Japan Sevens, the first time the U.S. had won a plate since 2001,[4] and followed that feat by again finishing fifth to win the Plate Final at the 2013 Scotland Sevens,[5] with Nick Edwards the leading try-scorer in the tournament with 8 tries. The U.S. finished the season in 11th place, and had two players among the season's top try-scorers: Nick Edwards (20) and Zack Test (18). Coach Alex Magleby stepped down after the season.[6]

The U.S. team fared poorly during the 2013–14 Series under new coach Matt Hawkins, finishing the season in 13th place. Once again, Zack Test led the team with 23 tries and 119 points on the season; other leading scorers included Carlin Isles with 17 tries, including six at the 2014 Wellington Sevens, and newcomer Madison Hughes with 34 goals scored.[7] Hawkins was blamed for the exodus of several veteran players, such as Colin Hawley and Shalom Suniula, and was asked to step down at the end of the season.[8]

Top 6 finishes (2014–present)

USA Rugby sevens team in 2014

The U.S. had its best season ever in the 2014–15 Series under head coach Mike Friday, who was hired in summer 2014.[9] The U.S. finished sixth in the series, its best finish to date. The team capped off the season by winning the 2015 London Sevens after defeating Australia in the cup final, the first time the U.S. has won a World Series tournament.[10] Carlin Isles set a U.S. record with 32 tries for the season and Madison Hughes set a record with 296 points.

The U.S. began the 2015–16 Series by "shocking the world" when it defeated New Zealand for the first time at 2015 Dubai Sevens.[11] The team beat the 12-time World Series champion in pool play and again in the tournament's third-place match[12] before a third victory in as many matches in the 2015 South Africa Sevens Plate Semifinal.[13] The U.S. once again finished the season in sixth, tying its best ever finish. The previous season's scoring records were broken again, as Perry Baker notched 48 tries and Madison Hughes scored 331 points.

The U.S. began the 2016-17 World Series slowly, sitting in 11th place after the first three rounds. The U.S. was missing certain key players from the previous season. The U.S. turned things around mid-season. In the second half of the season, the team for the first time reached four consecutive semifinals: first at the USA Sevens where the U.S. finished third; then at the Canada Sevens where Perry Baker scored 9 tries including his 100th career try; followed by Hong Kong and Singapore. The U.S. finished the season in fifth place overall, a record high for the team. Perry Baker was the season's leading try scorer (57) and points scorer (285) on the Series, whereas Madison Hughes ranked third in points (279). Perry Baker and Danny Barrett were both selected to the 2016-17 Dream Team, and Baker was selected as the 2017 World Rugby Sevens Player of the Year.

The 2017–18 season began badly for the U.S. In the first tournament in Dubai, Baker suffered a concussion, and the rest of the team limped to a last place finish. The U.S. improved from that point on, reaching the semifinals of the Australia Sevens. The team then won the 2018 USA Sevens, the first time the U.S. won their home tournament, boosted in large part by Perry Baker, who led all scorers with 8 tries; Baker, along with forwards Ben Pinkelman and Danny Barrett all made the tournament Dream Team.[14][15] Overall the team displayed inconsistent performances, reaching the Cup semifinals theee times, but also failing to qualify for the cup quarterfinals three times. Despite the inconsistent play, the U.S. finished sixth overall.

The U.S. got off to a strong start in the 2018–19 season. The team reached the finals in Dubai, South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia, the first time the U.S. had reached four consecutive finals and was ranked joint first in the overall Series after the first four legs. In the fifth leg, the U.S. won beating Samoa 27–0.[16] This was the U.S.’s second straight USA Sevens win, giving them sole possession of first place in the Sevens World Series. The U.S. remained in first place for several more tournaments, but consecutive semifinal losses to Fiji in the last two tournaments in London and Paris meant that Fiji won the Series with the U.S. finishing second. The U.S. overall had its best season ever — the second place finish beating their previous best of fifth. Additionally, qualifying for five consecutive tournament finals as well as reaching the semifinals in all ten tournaments were U.S. records.[17] Carlin Isles scored 52 tries, ranked first overall among all players.

Season by season

Season Rank Points Events Cups Plates Bowls* Shields Most tries Most points
1999–2000 18th 0 5 0 0 0 0
2000–01 10th 16 3 0 1 0 0
2001–02 11th 12 7 0 0 1 0
2002–03 19th 1 3 0 0 1 0
2003–04 15th 0 4 0 0 0 2
2004–05 14th 0 2 0 0 0 0
2005–06 15th 0 3 0 0 0 0
2006–07 15th 2 3 0 0 0 1
2007–08 13th 6 6 0 0 0 1 Chris Wyles (26) Chris Wyles (130)
2008–09 11th 24 8 0 0 0 3 Kevin Swiryn (20) Kevin Swiryn (100)
2009–10 10th 32 8 0 0 1[18] 1 Nick Edwards (17) Nese Malifa (120)
2010–11 12th 10 8 0 0 1 2 Zack Test (24) Zack Test (120)
2011–12 11th 41 9 0 0 0 0 Zack Test (21) Zack Test (107)
2012–13 11th 71 9 0 2 0 0 Nick Edwards (20) Shalom Suniula (101)
2013–14 13th 41 9 0 0 0 4 Zack Test (23) Zack Test (119)
2014–15 6th 108 9 1 1 2 0 Carlin Isles (32) Madison Hughes (296)
2015–16 6th 117 10 0 0 0 0 Perry Baker (48) Madison Hughes (331)
2016–17 5th 129 10 0 0 1 0 Perry Baker (57) Perry Baker (285)
2017–18 6th 117 10 1 0 1 0 Carlin Isles (49) Carlin Isles (247)
2018–19 2nd 177 10 1 0 0 0 Carlin Isles (52) Madison Hughes (299)
Total 135 3 4 8 14 Perry Baker (186) Madison Hughes (1,410)

* – At the start of the 2016-17 season, the plate and shield awards were abandoned, with the bowl replaced by the Challenge Trophy. Perry Baker lead in tries and overall points for the 2016–17 World Rugby Sevens Series.

Current season

2018–19 Season
Leg Date Finish Record
(W-L-D)
Pts Diff Most tries Most points Dream Team
selection
Dubai Nov–Dec 2018 2nd 4–2 +34 Perry Baker (6) Perry Baker (30) ---
South Africa December 2018 2nd 5–1 +104 Stephen Tomasin (5) Stephen Tomasin (43) Hughes & Barrett
New Zealand January 2019 2nd 5–1 +31 Carlin Isles (7) Madison Hughes (39) Pinkelman, Niua, & Isles
Sydney February 2019 2nd 5–1 +89 Isles & Williams (5) Madison Hughes (35) Tomasin, Hughes
United States March 2019 1st 5–1 +74 Carlin Isles (8) Carlin Isles (40) Isles, Iosefo, Tomasin, Pinkelman
Canada March 2019 4th 3–3 –8 Carlin Isles (6) Madison Hughes (32) Stephen Tomasin
Hong Kong April 2019 3rd 3–3 +33 Carlin Isles (9) Carlin Isles (45) Carlin Isles
Singapore April 2019 4th 4–2 +68 (multiple) (3) Madison Hughes (27)
England May 2019 3rd 5–1 +53 Perry Baker (5) Perry Baker (25) Stephen Tomasin
France June 2019 4th 4–2 +33 Carlin Isles (5) Madison Hughes (36) Madison Hughes
Totals 2nd 43–17 +511 Carlin Isles (52) Madison Hughes (299) Stephen Tomasin (4)

Player statistics (2018–19)

The following table shows the leading players for the U.S. at the conclusion of the 2018–19 Sevens Series season. Carlin Isles led all players on the Series with 52 tries and 48 clean breaks. Madison Hughes ranked second in the Series with 299 points. Ben Pinkelman ranked third with 191 carries. Stephen Tomasin ranked fifth with 101 tackles.

Leading U.S. players (2018–19 WS season)
Player Position Matches Tackles Tries
Stephen Tomasin Forward 60 101 29
Ben Pinkelman Forward 60 84 16
Madison Hughes Halfback 59 89 20
Carlin Isles Back 55 49 52
Folau Niua Halfback 55 37 8
Martin Iosefo Back 53 49 16
Matai Leuta Forward 52 48 10
Kevon Williams Halfback 52 35 18
Maceo Brown Back 47 42 6
Brett Thompson Forward 43 37 6
Danny Barrett Forward 39 38 12
Perry Baker Back 25 21 16

Source: World Rugby website.

Current team

A pool of American full-time professional rugby players train year round as a team at the Olympic Training Center in San Diego.[2][19] The twelve players selected for tournament rosters are generally drawn from this training squad. For special tournaments, however, the U.S. sometimes draws from American players who are playing rugby professionally abroad.

USA Rugby and the U.S. Olympic Committee have made funds available since January 2012 to provide full-time salaried contracts to players. Up until 2011, players had been part-time semi-pro players paid a stipend for their participation. USA Rugby CEO Nigel Melville stated that a full-time sevens team is a crucial step as USA Rugby prepares for rugby's return to the Olympics in 2016.

An article in The Guardian in 2014 noted that the inclusion of sevens in the Olympics had greatly expanded funding available to the sport, and that the large pool of American football players who may be unable to earn professional contracts in the NFL meant there were many sportsmen who had skills and strengths they could transfer to rugby union.[20]

Squad

The table below shows the U.S. roster assembled for the most recent tournament. The statistics listed for events and tries refer to statistics generated in World Rugby Sevens Series tournaments.

Current squad (2019 Paris Sevens)
Player Position Age Events Tries
Danny Barrett Forward 29 47 83
Ben Pinkelman Forward 25 32 46
Stephen Tomasin Forward 25 30 77
Madison Hughes (c) Scrum-half 27 46 89
Folau Niua Fly-half 34 68 68
Martin Iosefo Center 29 41 67
Carlin Isles Wing 29 50 180
Substitutes
Matai Leuta Forward 29 35 24
Joe Schroeder Forward 26 8 4
Kevon Williams Half-back 28 20 29
Marcus Tupuola Back 23 5 6
Perry Baker Wing 33 40 184

The following players who have been regular members of the squad during the past 12 months have not been included in the current squad:

Unavailable players
Player Position Age Events Tries
Maceo Brown Center 24 9 6
Brett Thompson Forward 29 30 23

Coaches

Position Name
Head Coach Mike Friday[21]
Assistant Coach Anthony Roques
Performance Director Alex Magleby

Tournament history

Summer Olympics