The United States was right there with a chance to beat Wales.
Just like the day before when the Eagles were right there with a chance to beat Argentina and France.
Only one of their four games during the USA Sevens rugby tournament has come easy — Saturday’s 31-10 victory over Spain to conclude pool play.
The other three were agonizingly close defeats, including Saturday night’s 12-7 loss after the horn to Wales in a Bowl quarterfinal before an announced crowd of 31,664 at Sam Boyd Stadium. That defeat dropped the U.S. to the Shield competition, in which the Eagles face Uruguay in a semifinal at 9:42 a.m. today.
“Right now, our heart is definitely there, but our head is coming in and out, if you want to call it that, for 14 minutes,” U.S. coach Matt Hawkins said. “But the biggest piece is we’re playing for 14 minutes, and that’s really, really important for us.”
The final four is set for the Cup, with defending tournament champion South Africa meeting Samoa at 11:32 a.m., and Canada facing two-time defending series champion and current world No. 1 New Zealand at 11:54. The winners will play for the championship at 2:25 p.m.
This has been another disappointing showing on the home turf for the U.S., which has one victory each of the past two years in Las Vegas. The Eagles can end the tournament on a much more positive note if they can win the Shield title.
“The easy thing would be to be frustrated, but we’re professionals,” U.S. winger Nick Edwards said. “We have put ourselves in position to win each and every single one of those matches.”
The U.S. has more than pride on the line for wanting a strong finish, having entered this tournament 14th in the standings. That is where the Eagles will be when the tourney ends, and remaining in the top 14 ensures a place in every series stop next season.
Finishing 15th means a possible tournament invitation or two the following season and a devastating setback.
“It’s incredibly important” to win, Edwards said. “The way the World Series is structured, every single point in the World Series at the end of the year is going to be incredibly valuable because we don’t want to be in a relegation battle.”
Hawkins, who is in his first season, has been trying to balance short-term gains with long-term success, keeping an eye on next year’s Pan American Games and the 2016 Olympics.
He said he wasn’t concerned about taking such a look only to pay the price in relegation, saying he hasn’t neglected the present for the future.
“Relegation isn’t something that I’m thinking about,” Hawkins said.
Future games against Spain, the current 15th-place team, might help the U.S. fight off relegation.
In Saturday’s game, Spain got to within 14-10 early in the second half before Brett Thompson tipped a line-out pass to U.S. teammate Stephen Tomasin, who scored the try. Then Thompson added a try himself, and Ryne Haitsuka capped the Eagles’ scoring with one of his own.
Against Wales, the teams played a scoreless first half and exchanged tries in the second seven minutes.
With the score 7-7 and the horn already sounded, Wales’ Ashley Evans got the ball to Dylan Morgans, who just got to the front left corner of the end-goal as American Carlin Isles closed in.
It was another tough ending for a U.S. team that has lost three games by a total of 14 points.
“A lot of it just comes down to decision-making,” Hawkins said. “Are we not making the right decisions? It’s as simple as that. So if we get that decision-making right, we’ll do good things. But that also takes maturity. It takes experience.”
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.