Eagle’s fans watching the first two stop on the Sevens World Series noticed the absence of Carlin Isles. Most teams might panic at losing arguably the fastest player in rugby, but not when you also have Perry Baker. Baker has shown his evolution as a player, even Captaining the side while Madison Hughes was out.
Look for Isles to come back in a big way. He’s a competitor like no other and while he was injured Baker passed him on the USA’s all time try scoring list for Sevens.They’re both focused on winning matches, but a friendly try scoring competition never hurts. If Baker can maintain his level of play and Carlin can continue to inject his pace in the second half, we should be looking at the Cup Quarterfinals.
Madison Hughes also makes his return. After touring with John Mitchell and the XV’s boys in November and Captaining the side in Dubai, he was awarded a much needed and well deserved break. Don Pati and Stephen Tomasin filled position, with Pati showing some speed and skilled offloads. Like Isles, Hughes should come back healthy and focused.
One absence that seems more long term is Zach Test. His name was gone from every camp leading up to the World Series, and only recently resurfaced in the XV’s pool for the Americas Rugby Championship. The leading try scorer for USA Sevens will tour with Mitchell for the five match tournament against Brazil, Uruguay, Canada, Argentina, and Chile.
Back from injury, a big bodied wing named Brett Thompson looks to take Test’s role. Thompson barely missed out on the Olympics, and has shown to be a top player for the Eagles. His workload won’t be too heavy with the likes of Danny Barrett and Andrew Durutalo in the squad. It’s almost a guarantee Durutalo will create turnovers and Danny will truck a defender to his backside.
A late change was made with Connor Wallace-Sims replacing Kevon Williams. At twenty one years old Wallace-Sims is ready to dip his toes into international sevens. I doubt Friday plays him liberally, but he should see time on both days.
Series veterans Martin Iosefo, Folau Niua, and Matai Leuta complete the squad. Their skills leave little room for missed tackles. At any point, one of these three can side step and break the field wide open.
The Wellington campaign starts at 7:18 p.m. ET against France. Next up at 10:42 p.m. ET is Samoa, and we finish off the pool against New Zealand at 3:02 a.m ET.
Running the pool to go 3-0 might be too hard, but 2-1 and a cup quarter birth is not only within reach, but expected with Mike Friday and this talented group of ruggers.