The roster, not the venue, was the main thing at the past weekend's USA 7s tournament.
Sunday's 28-17 bowl championship over France, on top of a 19-14 Argentine victory, may one day be seen as a coming of age for Kevin Swiryn's crew. Broadly changed from the high watermark a year ago in San Diego, the 2009-10 edition for the first time demonstrated it can sustain America's 'core' status on the World Sevens Series.
The Eagles had since failed to score in eight consecutive tournaments, raising the question whether coach Al Caravelli could identify and train a new generation to succeed the one headlined by Chris Wyles, Todd Clever, Jone Naqica, and Takudzwa Ngwenya. With many Americans setting great store by seven-a-side's inclusion in the Olympics, the import of the matter is the difference between starting over and building momentum toward the 2016 Rio de Janeiro games -- which tentatively plans to include only 12 teams.
The 'developed' rugby world has fastened on the presence of Leonard Peters and Bennie Brazell, a pair of college football standouts with some NFL experience. But the story lies more in the role of players like captain Swiryn, whose second season on the 7s circuit has been limited by injury, Matt Hawkins, and Nese Malifa as well as the contributions of newcomers like Nick Edwards and Zach Test.
Like recent 15s squads, the current 7s team features any number of players recruited from overseas, and is light on home-grown high school and college players, Swiryn and Test being the outstanding exceptions. But Caravelli's scouting materially differs from his 15s contemporaries, Peter Thorburn and Scott Johnson, in that the 7s mentor has consistently filled his camps with genuinely new names and faces, has not automatically advanced players trained overseas, nor expected that the players in camp were the finished product.
(The selections of Eddie O'Sullivan, another who has had little time for the likes of Gavin DeBartolo, cannot be fully assessed until his second year commences later this spring. In an interview with the IRB, however, O'Sullivan noted that 'there probably be 9 or 10 of [this weekend's players] in the 15s pool.')
With four events to go, the US trails Canada by 2 points, a worrying prospect since Canada was until recently North America's core member and the criteria for the 2010-11 season have not been published. In closed-door proceeding, Rugby Canada has been running rings around USARFU, most recently in 2009's notorious four-teams-to-one Americas Rugby Championships. Still, two quarterfinal berths from the Australia, Hong Kong, England, and Scotland tournaments should do the trick.
In a related matter, talk that USARFU would utilize Las Vegas as the venue for announcing 7s players contracts proved idle. Last September, chief executive Nigel Melville said he expected the union would employ its frontline players this current season.
2010 United States to USA 7s (4-2, Bowl champs)
Marco Barnard (Kutztown Univ.), Bennie Brazell (unattached), Nick Edwards (New York AC), Paul Emerick (Overmach Parma), Matt Hawkins (Belmont Shore), Valenese Malifa (Belmont Shore), Leonard Peters (Gentlemen of Aspen), Thretton Palamo (San Francisco Golden Gate), Mile Pulu (San Francisco Golden Gate), Shalom Suniula (Pearl City), Kevin Swiryn (captain, Old Puget Sound Beach), Zack Test (Loughborough Univ.)
2009 United States to USA 7s (3-2, Cup semifinalists)
Justin Boyd (Dallas), James Gillenwater (Belmont Shore), Paul Emerick (Overmach Parma), Matthew Hawkins (OMBAC), Valenese Malifa (Belmont Shore), Jone Naqica (Denver Barbarians), Thretton Palamo (Biarritz), Rikus Pretorius (Olympic Club), Dallen Stanford (Belmont Shore), Shalom Suniula (Brisbane), Kevin Swiryn (unattached), Chris Wyles (captain, Saracens)
2008 United States to USA 7s (3-3, Bowl finalists)
Todd Clever (OMBAC), James Gillenwater (Santa Cruz), Troy Hall (White Plains), Riaan Hamilton (OMBAC), Matt Hawkins (OMBAC), Valenese Malifa (Belmont Shore), Takudzwa Ngwenya (Biarritz), Thretton Palamo (Biarritz), Mike Palefau (Petrarca), Jason Pye (Park City Haggis), Dallen Stanford (Belmont Shore), Chris Wyles (captain, OMBAC)