The US has drawn Sevens World Series leader New Zealand, defending circuit champion South Africa, and reigning 7s World Cup titlist Wales at next month's Hong Kong tournament, the most prestigious of the nine-stage circuit.
This year's edition doubles as the sole qualifier for teams hoping to earn so-called core status for the 2012-13 season, meaning the Eagles have been grouped with the 11 other teams that already enjoy guaranteed berths. The trouble is the US lies at the bottom of the dozen, and at 13th in the standings, is also behind Canada.
Normally Hong Kong comprises 24 teams, many of whom are not series regulars and so would be underdogs even against teams that are not playing well. The tournament's one-off format thus comes at a poor time. Such is professional sport, a milieu which offers little respite and security because the next guy in line wants to make a living too.
USARFU recently contracted a dozen players to train in San Diego, but has since gone 1-9 at the Wellington and Las Vegas stops. Whatever commercial breakthroughs the USA 7s tournament has achieved by bringing American rugby to network television, they will probably not last long should the Eagles surrender core status or fail to qualify for the 2016 Olympics.
NBC's programming formula is simple and well-understood: highlight successful American athletes, and downplay the disciplines in which the US is not competitive. Though maddeningly chauvinistic, it has enjoyed sustained ratings success because most of the Olympics audience are not normally sports fans, instead identifying with local heroes. Paradoxically, exposure to the tens of millions who do not know about rugby is precisely what USARFU lusts after.
Raising the hurdles facing coach Al Caravelli and Nigel Melville, in his technical role as president of rugby operations (an unusual title that is equivalent to baseball's general manager), is the new requirement to field American citizens. Hitherto US national teams have followed International Rugby Board standards, which allow players with family lineage or three-year residency to qualify; but US Olympic Committee rules are more stringent.