Matt Hawkins' Eagles scraped into the USA 7s winner's bracket, thereby climbing to 13th in the 7s World Series standings with 3 tour stops left.
As many as 8 teams on the circuit face the prospect of falling below 12th and so missing automatic qualification for all of the 2013-14 circuit. Perhaps not coincidentally, only a dozen teams will qualify for 2016's Summer Games 7s tournament, so missing next year's cut would be foreboding.
In Las Vegas, won by South Africa for the 2d time in 3 years, Folau Niua's conversion of Nick Edwards' try on the last play of Saturday's 22-7 pool-match win over Spain earned the US pool D's runnerup postion. Despite dropping matches to Australia and Samoa, 26-7 and 12-7 respectively, the Eagles advanced based on aggregrate points differential and so claimed 10 series points, lifting the season's total to 28.
Following a credible 21-19 quarterfinal defeat to Fiji, the Eagles could have nabbed at least 2 more, but squandered the winnable plate semifinal against Canada, 24-19 in overtime.
Poor tackling led to a 19-7 second-half deficit; failing to convert a centered try left the US tied at full time. After Zack Test's 4th-minute touchdown brought America to within 7, Luke Hume identified Niua many yards away, and seeking to conserve time, stepped up to take the normally automatic extras. The sensible tactic failed as Hume steered the ball underneath the crossbar.
Should this year's campaign falter, it may be tempting to cite Hume's miscue as the turning point. It will not be.
In next month's Hong Kong and Japan tournaments and May's Scotland event in May, there is ample opportunity to pass 12th-placed Scotland, 5 points ahead of the US; the Wallabies, 7 points ahead; and even the Maple Leafs, 11 in front.
Two quarterfinal berths should prove enough to avoid the re-qualification tournament, an 8-team affair at May's England 7s. The US has posted a 3-12 record in its last 3 outings, yet twice reached the top 8, collecting 21 points.
This suggests Alex Magleby's squad is sufficiently capable and even building momentum. Whatever the outcome of 2013's remaining 15 to 18 matches, the reflexive perspective may again focus on individual players.
In assessing a 7-month, 9-tournament campaign, however, scrutiny should comprehend USARFU's off-site residency program at the Olympic Training Center, particularly its premise that contracting a squad of 20 or so is the most effective way to get the most from America's playing base. The matter extends past the coach to the union's technical program and ultimately all the way to the board room.