To say it has been an up and down season for the U.S.A. 7’s team would be an understatement. After a decent start in the Gold Coast, the Eagles went on to under whelm, seemingly losing confidence at every tournament. Players didn’t seem to think that they could score, opponents didn’t seem to think the Eagles could score, and the time looked to be in disarray. This is not to suggest that Al Caravelli wasn’t doing a good job, he was. (Caravelli certainly deserves more praise than what he is getting from some fans.) Still, what was needed was a change of scene.
Step up Alex Magleby. The Dartmouth coach was called in to guide the team for the last four stops of the IRB Sevens Series and to give the team confidence. He could have done that by giving motivational speeches but that wouldn’t account for the changes the Eagles have seen over the last three tournaments. Simply, the team has played better because Magleby has changed the team’s makeup and tactics.
Previously, the team relied on speedsters to outrun opponents. This often got the team into trouble both defensively and offensively. Gaining speed meant that the team often gave up size, leading to bigger teams rolling over them for easy scores. Speed also meant that many runners often ran into no-man’s land without support, leading to a quick turnover and an almost certain score for the other team. Magleby has completely changed this tactic. Players are now encouraged to go slowly, have support, and make sure their passes are safe. Never was this more evident than last week in Glasgow when the Eagles loaded all seven players in the ruck for a rare pick and go. The patience paid off when Colin Hawley found a weak spot and went over for the try.
Magleby has also changed the type of player chosen for the team. For instance, Andrew Durutalo played earlier during the Series but has featured more prominently under Magleby. He is the type of player that can go into contact, take on two defenders, and make an offload. Nick Edwards is another player to benefit under Magleby at the expense of a player like Miles Craigwell. This change has paid off as the Eagles scored at least two tries in every match in Glasgow and have looked more dangerous on the attack. Much of that has to do with the possession that playing slower will give a team.
Increasing player size and slowing down the pace of the game does have its downside. The biggest casualty of this system is defense. Sevens is all about scoring. The best teams on the Series score almost every time they get the ball and if teams can get one stop, they will most likely go gain the momentum in the match. This is where the Eagles need to improve. Too often they lack the speed to recover from a missed tackle or to follow the ball out wide. It is hurting the team but it is fixable. Greater fitness will help the team improve.
Most importantly, these tactical changes have given the team more confidence. They are making less mistakes, being more cautious with the ball, and feeling like they can score anytime they get the ball. That confidence will go a long way to making this team better. If they believe in themselves, they will train harder, and feel they can beat any team in the world.
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The entire All Blacks apparel line has been updated for 2013/14. Check out the New Zealand All Blacks polo.
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