USA coach Mike Friday has named his 12-man squad which will compete in the 2015/16 World Rugby Sevens Series in Las Vegas this weekend.
Garrett Bender has recovered from an injury that kept him out of the third and fourth rounds of the Series in New Zealand and Australia, respectively, while Maka Unufe, who was not available for the two previous legs, was also named in the squad.
Unfortunate injuries to Nic Edwards, Kevin Swiryn, and Brett Thompson in the past six weeks have opened the door for players to step up in the High Performance Camp to make a case for selection. Ben Pinkelman has been selected to his third consecutive Series tournament following his debut at HSBC Wellington Sevens, where the Eagles reached the Plate Semifinal.
“Some of the decisions we’ve made previously have had to do with player management as well as also allowing, providing, and getting players exposure and game time,” said Friday.
“Like we’ve said throughout the whole of this season – and that will continue onto Vancouver, Hong Kong, and Singapore – that this Series is about ensuring we get as many of the players up to standard and in the position to compete for the Rio final 12.”
Friday called Martin Iosefo into the team between legs in Oceania as injury cover as well as to provide an extra attacking threat. He was only able to play the first two matches at Sydney Sevens, but is fit for this weekend. Iosefo and Unufe were a vital part of the Eagles’ success in the midfield last season, which saw the Eagles reach their first Cup Semifinal since 2010 while in Las Vegas.
Perry Baker and Carlin Isles will have more room to maneuver along the touch line at Sam Boyd Stadium this year, as the facility has undergone minor renovations to allow for a wider rugby pitch.
“Having the centers of Martin and Maka allows us to play differently, adds variety to our attack, and it also provides and allows space for the wingers on the outside,” added Friday.
“It’s interesting that the Vegas pitch is evolving again. Suddenly this pitch is becoming more attractive to us as a rugby sevens team. It’s more of a track that we can operate on as a team more attractively and more efficiently.”
Madison Hughes will continue to captain the team in Sin City, where the Eagles will face South Africa for the second consecutive season in pool play. The Blitzbokke have called in 15s winger Bryan Habana into the squad, following in the footsteps of Australia’s Quade Cooper and New Zealand’s Sonny Bill Williams as Rugby World Cup veterans with Rio 2016 Olympic Summer Games ambitions.
The Eagles shut out Canada under the lights at Sam Boyd Stadium last season in the Cup Quarterfinals, and will recreate the matchup Friday night in pool play following their first match against Wales.
“Playing at home is a very special thing,” said Friday.
“You get to put the jersey on on your own land and represent in front of the people you’re representing, and in front of the masses and all of their families that are not often able to watch as them as they travel around the world.”
After the March 4-6 weekend in Nevada, the Series teams will travel north to Vancouver for the sixth leg of the season, to be hosted at BC Place Stadium.
USA Sevens squad:
Carlin Isles, Ben Pinkelman, Danny Barrett, Garrett Bender, Zack Test, Will Holder, Folau Niua, Maka Unufe, Nate Augspurger, Madison Hughes (c), Perry Baker, Martin Iosefo