HONG KONG – The Men’s Eagles Sevens came within 15 meters of beating Australia in the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens Plate Final Sunday, but ultimately could not complete the comeback in a 21-17 loss.
Perry Baker scored what must be one of the tries of the tournament at Hong Kong Stadium and Madison Hughes scored a highlight-reel try of his own as the Eagles gained 12 points in the Series standings. Argentina, the Eagles’ Plate Semifinal opponent, remains ahead of the U.S. by one point at 64.
Despite the Eagles controlling the ball on the opening kickoff, Australia took an early lead thanks to a penalty against Head Coach Mike Friday’s team. Allan Fa’alava’au dummied a pass 10 meters from the try line to dive in-goal and give Australia a 7-0 lead.
Hands on the ball once more, the Eagles confidently marched up the pitch with a controlled attack, passing the ball from touch line to touch line. Hughes took on two defenders across the 22, and it took both to bring down the captain. Andrew Durutalo and Test each made themselves available in support, with Hughes’ offload from the ground finding the Eagles’ no. six for the try in the corner.
Both teams exacerbated the raucous crowd with continuous play in the following minutes. Australia bruised its way into the Eagles’ half in the seventh minute after a pass from Hughes to Test on the wing was called forward by the referee.
Baker, around 20 meters from the touch line, began running a line becoming of a winger. The pass he caught, however, was not from a teammate, but an intercept of an Australia pass. The speedster had only the posts in his sights, as Australia was without a player behind its attack. Baker continued his full-speed sprint from his 22 to Australia’s before basking in the cheers at Hong Kong Stadium. Hughes converted the try to give the Eagles a 12-7 lead.
Hughes kept the lead intact just ahead of the half-time horn, as Cameron Clark found the try zone with a break down the wing from midfield. The sweeper chased down the Australian and made the tackle ahead of the try line while keeping the ball from making contact with the pitch.
Ed Jenkins, Australia’s captain and Hong Kong Sevens Dream Team selection, went up against fellow Dream Team selection Test and came out on top on the other side of halftime, but the Eagle refused to be defeated and drew a penalty in a successive tackle.
Shannon Walker restored Australia’s lead in the 10th minute by breaking Baker’s tackle 10 meters from the line and fending Test in-goal. Clark extended the lead to 21-12 on the 12th-minute restart with the referee playing an advantage to Australia.
Australia was awarded a scrum at the Eagles’ 22, but lost the ball to Hughes, who jumped on his opposing scrum half to force the ball loose. He grabbed the ball and had the confidence and speed to make the 75-plus-meter run past the defense and into the corner of the try zone. Though his conversion was unsuccessful, Hughes’ score brought the Eagles within five points of Australia at 21-17.
The score remained 21-17 at the final whistle, even though the Eagles were just meters from taking the lead in the final minute. A patient attack as the final horn sounded reached Australia’s 22 before heading towards the left-hand touch line. Test’s pass to Durutalo on the wing missed the winger’s hands by a hair and found touch, bringing the Plate Final to an end.
Test finishes his 101st career World Rugby HSBC Sevens World Series tournament tied atop the Hong Kong Sevens try-scorer table with Fiji’s Savenaca Rawaca. Each player scored six tries in six matches, with Rawaca’s team winning the 20-minute Cup Final Sunday.
The Eagles’ 12 points from Hong Kong brings the 2014-15 Series total for Friday’s team to 53. Tokyo Sevens will be the next opportunity for the U.S. to ascend the table towards Rio 2016 qualification. Canada, Kenya, and South Africa await the Eagles in Pool C, with matches kicking off April 4.
Men’s Eagles Sevens | v. Australia
1. Carlin Isles
2. Nic Edwards
3. Danny Barrett
4. Garrett Bender
5. Zack Test
6. Andrew Durutalo
7. Folau Niua
8. Maka Unufe
9. Nate Augspurger
10. Madison Hughes (C)
11. Perry Baker
12. Mataiyasi Leuta
Australia | v. USA
1. Nick Malouf
2. Jesse Parahi
3. Sam Myers
4. Tom Lucas
5. Bradley Wilkin
6. Con Foley
7. Cameron Clark
8. Greg Ledoudev
9. Ed Jenkins
10. Allan Fa’alava’au
11. Pama Fou
12. Shannon Walker
Men’s Eagles Sevens | 17
Tries: Durutalo, Baker, Hughes
Australia | 21
Tries: Fa’alava’au, Walker, Clark
Men’s Eagles Sevens | Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens
v Kenya – W 21-14
v Wales – W 40-12
v England – D 21-21
Cup QF v Samoa – L 25-16
Plate SF v Argentina – W 28-14
Plate Final v Australia – L 21-17