Can the USA stop Fiji? Danny Barrett steps up to plate to give them hope at Hong Kong Sevens
Mike Friday’s outfit will now face a New Zealand side licking gaping wounds after being demolished by the title holders and fan favourites
Here are a few words of advice for those preparing to face – and watch – the USA on the final day of the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens.
Expect the unexpected.
Argentina were supposed to supply the testing material for the Americans in the pool stages, but the South Americans did what most teams do – they focused all their attention out wide and on Perry Baker.
Enter Danny Barrett and, fuelled by his three barnstorming tries, he thrilled a crowd of 38,253 in their 31-17 victory over Argentina.
Given his size, and given the ball, Barrett knows what’s needed.
“Just run straight,” he said. “The boys did such a good job getting me into space. They did the hard work and then I just try to run, somewhat fast, or what’s fast for me.
“All the credit goes to them. We’re ready for the knockout stages tomorrow. Today was just what we needed. We’re really growing into ourselves as a unit.”
The quarter-finals now see a full-strength USA outfit face a developmental New Zealand whose frailties were exposed by a rampant Fiji in their final pool game.
The fan favourites romped home 50-7 to keep their unbeaten record intact – and are now odds-on favourites for their fourth straight title.
USA coach Mike Friday has forged an impressive outfit, with strength in depth as their breakthrough title win at their home event in Las Vegas last month showed.
As always, he was keeping a lid on any expectations in Hong Kong, but his team have improved as the tournament has evolved.
“Danny gives us strength and he gives us a little bit of bounce on the outside, too,” said Friday. “He’s a focal point if we need go-forward ball and gets underestimated sometimes.
“We started to see the more physical part of our game come out and that’s needed if you are to win in Hong Kong. We still have a few things to work on, plenty for us to do, but we’re where we want to be. We’re in the Cup quarters and we’re in with a shot.”
That side of the quarter-final draw also features Kenya up against Scotland.
Much has been made about the fact a number of nations have developmental squads, preferring to train their sights on next week’s Commonwealth Games sevens event on the Gold Coast in Australia.
The South Africans, in particular, have brushed off any concerns these squads might not be up to scratch. They will now face Spain in the quarters – and the Fijians in the semis if form this weekend holds – having topped their group unbeaten.
Playmaker Selvyn Davids has been a revelation and put England to the sword with a brace of tries and two conversions as the South Africans won the final pool game 33-15.
“We have a lot of potential flair with our youngster,” said South African coach Marius Schoeman. “England came for us and I am just glad these youngsters felt the pressure. We’ll tell them to relax tonight and just focus on their own business. We made a lot of mistakes so we have to try to rectify that.
Meanwhile, the Fijians did what they always do. The first half was close, against New Zealand, but they came out looking like they had been insulted.
They may not yet be completely vintage Fiji, but they have been a pretty tasty brew regardless.
“The best thing about it today was we were clinical in areas that create pressure on opponents and then we are quick to score,” said Friday.
“When that starts happening, and the scoreboard keeps ticking along, we just have to keep them out of it. We could have scored a few at the end.”