(Berkeley, California) 5 December 1998 -- The USA 7s side was welcomed to the international school of hard knocks this week at the Emirates Airlines Dubai 7s, where a young team featuring five players from the ITT-champion Collegiate Stars went 0-4.
Drawn in a very difficult pool, the USA started against Warblers International, a team comprising players from the New Zealand 7s player pool. After conceding a try from the opening kick, the Eagles struck back with a try by veteran 7s hooker (and 15s wing) Brian Hightower following an Eagle up-and-under that broke the Warblers' defense. The USA lead was short-lived however, as the Warblers struck again on the restart and led 12-7 at the half.
While controlling its fair share of possession in the second period, the US side couldn't manage any more points. In contrast, the Warblers seized their opportunities for three tries and a 33-7 win.
Next up, world champion Fiji used their size and strength more than their vaunted speed to force turnovers and build a commanding 22-0 first-half lead. The Eagles came back to score first in the second period. A 30-meter break by prop Don Younger led to a try for captain Vuka Tau. The USA then held Fiji to two tries in the half--an effort well received by the Dubai crowd--ending the game 34-7.
The Eagles pool provided no relief, serving up England Select for the third and final match of the first day. The Rory Underwood-led side struck swiftly from the kick-off and the ensuing restart to pull out to a 14-0 lead.
The USA came back with some sustained pressure after collegians Ili Batiratu and Younger linked for a 60-meter charge. But the Eagles could not convert and England were able to counter-attack from a goalline scrum to make the half-time score 21-0.
Again the second half proved a better period for the Eagles. England scored twice, but so did the USA. In the first instance, Tau put Hightower into space from a penalty tap and the hooker streaked 50 meters to score an unconverted try in the corner. The captain also started the Eagles' second try, sending wing Thad Hill in under the posts. The final score was 33-12, setting up a second-day Plate contest against Tonga.
The Eagles matched the Tongans in the first half, with both sides scoring two tries. Batiratu was the first to cross for the USA, finishing a Hightower break that began at the Tongan 40-meter mark.
The same players featured in the team's second try, with Batiratu breaking from the US goalline and transferring to Hightower, who carried the ball to halfway before finding recently graduated Dave Stroble out wide, for the flyhalf make the tryzone's corner.
However, the second half was all Tonga, who held the ball for most of the period and ran in three tries to end the game 31-14.
Though disappointed by the USA's record, coach Steve Gray saw positives to build on. "We had goals beyond our win-loss record," he commented after the tournament, "and we reached those goals.
"We were able to give some young players exposure to the highest level of the game, and we were able to lay down our pattern of play for the international season ahead," he said, noting that six of the ten US players are under 23 (Aseri Batiratu, Ili Batiratu, Arona Palamo, David Stroble, and Don Younger), with all but Stroble and Younger making their first international appearances.
"Obviously we very much wanted to win some games along the way," Gray added, "but improving performance was paramount. Our teamwork definitely picked up as the tournament progressed even going against some of the best teams in the world."
After the disappointment in Dubai, the USA will look for better things next month in South America, where the Eagles will compete in three international tournaments. Director of 7s Keith Seaber said the longer assembly and increased playing time together should make the squad more competitive.
"Many of the same players should be named for the South American trip, giving us a base to build on and the luxury of more time," Seaber said. "We have confidence in the athletes we've assembled. It is now about giving them a chance to reach their potential."
The Emirates Airlines Dubai 7s was eventually won by Fiji who beat New Zealand 31-22 in the final. Australia went down to the All Blacks in one semi-final, while Fiji held off Samoa in the other.
United States: Aseri Batiratu, Ili Batiratu, Brian Hightower, Thaddeus
Hill, Tasi Mounga, Arona Palamo, Toshi Palamo, David Stroble, Vuka Tau, Don
Coach: Steve Gray; Manager: Keith Seaber.
© USA National Rugby Team
Kurt Oeler, Media Relations
Hudson Rugby Fieldhouse
Berkeley, California 94720 4426
phone 510.643.1971 / fax 510.643.2192