U.S. Sevens team loses twice in three matches

The United States made a magical run to the semifinals of the USA Sevens rugby tournament last year in San Diego.

It won't repeat that feat in the event's first year in Las Vegas.

The Americans lost two of their three pool-play matches Saturday at Sam Boyd Stadium, where a colorful crowd of 18,800 waved flags, sang songs and cheered for their countries during more than nine hours of action.

"The atmosphere here is amazing," U.S. coach Al Caravelli said.

Despite fervent chants of "U-S-A," the United States squandered a 5-0 halftime lead during a 14-12 morning loss to Fiji and dug a 26-0 halftime hole against defending Sevens World Series champion South Africa in a 33-12 afternoon loss.

The Eagles salvaged a victory in the evening, more than six hours after they began play, beating rival Canada, 26-5.

The 16-team tournament concludes today, with quarterfinals starting at 11 a.m. The Cup Final is scheduled for 6:46 p.m.

The Americans will play Guyana (0-2-1) at 12:06 p.m. in the lower Bowl and Shield bracket.

"We lost (twice), but we have things to build on. We're playing much better than we have been," U.S. captain Kevin Swiryn said. "If we can keep rolling in the same direction, we'll be a very good team very fast."

Swiryn is one of few returnees from last season's U.S. squad, the core of which played together for three years and finished the season ranked an all-time best 11th in the world.

Swiryn said team continuity is the biggest key to success in sevens.

"It's just a matter of keeping the same guys together. We've had so much turnover," he said. "If we can have consistency, there's no turning back."

Also hampering the Americans' efforts to reach rugby's upper echelon is the fact the world's top teams are comprised entirely of full-time professionals; the U.S. only has one in Paul Emerick.

"I'm with these guys for a week before they go on tour, while all the other teams were playing. This is what they do for a living," said Caravelli, who didn't want to use that fact as an excuse. "If we were able to house ourselves in (an Olympic) training facility and do this five days a week, I think we could quickly move up to the top four, easily."

The U.S. team, which features several students, a plumber, electrician and handyman on its sevens squad, hopes to get the chance to focus on rugby full time soon, now that the sport has been named an Olympic event, starting in 2016.

But there's no guarantee it'll get that chance.

"It's going to take someone with a real strong passion that wants the USA to do well and give a lot of money," Swiryn said.

New Zealand (3-0), Fiji (3-0), Samoa (3-0), Australia (2-1), South Africa (2-1), Kenya (2-1), Wales (2-1) and England (2-0-1) advanced to today's main Cup and Plate competitions. Japan (1-2), Scotland (1-2), France (0-2-1), Argentina (0-2-1), Chile (0-3) and Canada (0-3) join the U.S. and Guyana in the Bowl and Shield field.

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0354.