US sevens hero Zack Test believes the Eagles are in with a shout of gold in Tokyo in 2020. By Oliver Pickup
USA Eagles backed to win Olympic gold after Las Vegas success
American sevens hero Zack Test is convinced the Eagles will fly high and swoop Olympic gold next year. It’s a bold prediction, but given the team’s incredible form in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series – Mike Friday’s team tops the table at the half-way stage, having defended its Las Vegas crown on Sunday – it would be foolish to dismiss it as simply patriotic baloney.
When asked whether his country can win in Tokyo next summer, Test, who amassed 601 points in 52 Sevens Series tournaments between 2009 and 2016, is unequivocal in his response. “That 100%, yes,” the 29-year-old says. “This team has been together for five years now. Most Olympic or World Cup winning sides have three or four years together. Next year they will be at the peak of their powers. They are showing amazing consistency in the Sevens Series, and that will build their belief.”
Indeed, in the four rounds before Las Vegas the Americans had finished as runners-up. The success on home soil, which was confirmed with a dominant 27-0 victory over Samoa in the final at the Sam Boyd Stadium, underlined their continued improvement and elevated them above New Zealand at the top of the table. Hitherto the country’s best ever overall Sevens Series finish has been fifth, achieved two seasons ago. This year – with the top four granted automatic qualification for the Olympics – the players look certain to better that, in some style.
Test, who announced his retirement from rugby in early 2018 after suffering a life-threatening head injury a year earlier, in a 15-a-side match against Uruguay, reckons having two of the quickest players in world rugby – Carlin Isles and Perry Baker – means that tries are not hard to come by.
“Carlin and Perry are very special athletes because they’ve got an asset that less than 1 per cent of the world’s population has,” he continues. “Having that asset on your team – twice – is reassuring because you know that at any given moment they could really turn open the game with their speed and athletic ability. Also, they’re a wonderful bridge for American athletes: Carlin who was a track athlete, and Perry who was an American Football player and both have made the transition over to rugby and have enjoyed great success on the world stage.”
Isles has clocked 10.13 seconds in the 100 metres, and Baker – who missed the Las Vegas Sevens due to suffering a broken jaw – is not far behind. Yet there is more to their games that raw speed, and great credit must go to Friday for their development. The latter has been named the World Rugby Sevens Player of the year in 2017 and 2018, while the former is the currently leading the try-scoring chart with 26, four more than second-placed Alasio Sovita Naduva from Fiji. Meanwhile, talismanic skipper Madison Hughes leads the overall points table, with 166.
Test was the highest try scorer in American history, with 143, until early 2018 when Baker surpassed that figure. As things stand, Baker is currently joint-seventh in the all-time try-scorers list, with 179, while Isles is equal eleventh with 159.
However, Friday’s side did not need the firepower of Isles in the one-sided match versus Samoa – though his earlier hat-trick in the 24-19 win against New Zealand had guaranteed the host’s final berth. Player of the final Ben Pinkleman scored a brace of tries, while Hughes, Matai Leuta and Maceo Terrel Brown all dotted down.
Success breeds success, and with the support of top-tier Sevens Series sponsor HSBC, the game is certainly growing across the United States. “Sevens has really taken off in America, due to the passionate American fans loving the high, energetic, constant-action game,” adds Test.
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“It’s something that all athletes in America can find a skill-set in, because rugby is the ultimate sport, in my opinion. You’ve got to have all the skills and assets to be successful in the field, and the constant action, and big hits, and quick turnover between games really captivates the American audience.
“It is now something that they really want to get behind especially because the team has a great chance to become gold medallists in Tokyo next year.”
On this golden form, who would bet against this maturing and confident American team to top the podium?
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