While the future beckons for Perry and the young Americans, their Hong Kong destiny will have to wait at least one more year
Even though a disappointing loss to New Zealand derails the American Eagles in Hong Kong, a bigger moment may be on the horizon at the World Cup in San Francisco
They’ve been ready for their screen test for quite a while, the Americans have, and no time would be better than the present. With traditional powers like New Zealand, South Africa, England and Australia saving some of their top talent for the Commonwealth Games, the Americans were romping with reckless abandon during the first two days of the tournament punctuated by a 31-17 Saturday dismantling of Argentina.
There were more than a few Stars and Stripes being worn and flown with pride around Hong Kong Stadium and why not. The Americans were not only sixth overall in the World Series ranking, they were coming off an impressive and convincing victory on home soil at the Las Vegas Sevens.
All that stood between the Eagles and a very winnable semi-final clash with Kenya was a New Zealand team that had been routed 50-7 a day earlier by Fiji. It was all there, a clearly laid-out path to their first ever final on the sevens’ biggest stage in Hong Kong.
Long-time Hong Kong resident Brian Brenner, who has just repatriated back to the US, was waiting with great anticipation and a plate full of steaming hot fajitas in his Irvine, California home. “We were happily surprised to see that ESPN 3 was showing the Hong Kong Sevens,” he said. “And, of course, it’s an added bonus with the Americans playing so well.”
Playing well might have been something of an understatement. Thanks to the electric skills of players such as Perry Baker and Carlin Isles, the Americans had become a must-see spectacle. Perry, in particular, had the crowd of 38,500 on their feet every time he touched the ball.
A former American football player who had been drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles, in the space of four years the mercurial Perry has not only become one of the sevens’ top players, he is easily its most mesmerising performer.
“The victory in Vegas was huge for us and long overdue,” he said. “People always say that we’re the sleeping giants awakening. But we’ve been awake for a while now and we are doing things people don’t expect us to do.
“Because of that people are starting to notice us and in Vegas we made some noise and got some coverage in the US. With the World Cup coming up it was perfect for us.”
That World Cup will also be in the US this July at AT&T Park, the spectacularly scenic baseball park that is home to the San Francisco Giants. Baker will no doubt be the primary marketing chip for the event but before any talk of the World Cup could start, there was the little issue of New Zealand and a Sunday morning match in Hong Kong.
But the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry and while the huge American community in Hong Kong was prepping and longing for an unprecedented moment of US magic, the Kiwis were having none of it.
The match was basically over from the moment it started with New Zealand romping home 35-7. Relentless and methodical, the Kiwis made Baker a complete non-factor as he only touched the ball twice all match.
The future, at least the Hong Kong version of the future, would have to wait. Still it’s no longer possible to ignore the Americans and Baker. They will be a factor in every event they enter going forward and while their popularity at home will never approach anything close to NFL or NBA levels, significant strides have been made.
“Just off the Vegas tournament alone ESPN have now started to put our games on so they can feel something is happening,” said Baker. “We’ve made Sports Center a couple of times too, but still it’s not enough. We know it’s down to what we do out there on the field, but we’re up against the big sports.
“However, when the World Cup comes up in July, other than baseball there will be nothing else that’s on every day. So when they watch us, it’ll be exciting, they’ll want to take part and get involved in what we’re doing.”
At least that is the hope and in the affable and accommodating Baker, US and world rugby has a burgeoning star who gets things on many levels. As he was waltzing in for another try against Argentina earlier, Baker twirled the ball on his fingers in a celebration that had a few hardened fans grumbling that type of showboating was more NFL than rugby. But nothing could be further from truth.
A few hours later Baker tweeted that it was a homage to Fiji’s iconic Waisale Serevi, whose twirling of the ball was never construed as a negative, prompting a reply from the “Little Magician” himself that he was proud and honoured by Baker’s actions.
Just because you’re the future, doesn’t mean you can’t honour the past.