Hughes and Team USA finish ninth in World 7s

by Gayne Kalustian | 10/13/14 6:32pm

Madison Hughes ’15 captained the U.S. rugby team to a Bowl victory and a ninth-place overall finish at the first installment of the IRB Sevens World Series on Australia’s Gold Coast over the weekend. The tournament was Hughes’s first as captain of the Eagles and the beginning of a nine-leg tournament that ends in London in May 2015.

Seeded last in its pool at the start of the tournament, the Eagles took top seat in Pool D late Saturday morning.

Against Canada, the U.S. drew a penalty in the fifth minute of the first half after Hughes could not place the ball after being taken to ground, ultimately resulting in the game’s first try by Zack Test — his 99th in the red, white and blue — between the posts.

Hughes kicked what would be the only good conversion of the match, giving the U.S. a 7-0 advantage. Canada inched forward in the close of the first half and scored a try but did not convert from the corner.

Poised to kick off for the second half, Hughes kicked an ace just outside the 10-meter limit, rendering the ball in recoverable territory for the U.S. Just 40 seconds into the second stanza, Test scored again to put the Americans up 12-5. Back-to-back Canadian tries put the Eagles on the wrong side of a 15-12 disadvantage with less a minute left until stoppage time.

Everyone took to their feet to watch the U.S. put its final play of the game into motion. After another penalty, the Eagles took the ball from touch to touch, eventually giving it to Test, who shook a tackle to go down in the try zone with virtually no time left on the clock, giving the U.S. a 17-15 victory.

“That win gave us some confidence,” Hughes said. “I think we went into the tournament optimistic of how we could perform, but hadn’t really had a benchmark against which we could set ourselves. The Canada game helped show where we were as a team. We played really well but not up to where we can perform.”

The team could not carry its momentum into the rest of pool play, dropping both of its next matches against eventual third place England 14-7 and Argentina 26-12, bumping them from the Cup quarterfinal bracket into the Bowl bracket. England, Hughes said, was the hardest loss, as the team played well but let the game slip away. The Argentina game was disappointing because the team did not reach its potential, he said.

But the team that left the pitch on Saturday came back to the arena with a different attitude, retiring each Sunday opponent it faced handily. The Eagles kicked off Sunday with a 26-5 victory over Japan, immediately followed by a 33-0 rout of Portugal in the Bowl Semifinals.

France, who fell to respective second- and fifth-place Samoa and New Zealand early on in the tournament, came into the final match also having not lost on Sunday, but could not make any effective offensive moves in the first half, falling behind 17-0 after a trio of American tries by Test, Garrett Bender and Perry Baker.

A three-try rally gave the Eagles a scare, but proved not to be a threat after the first five minutes of the second half. With Test leading the charge, the Eagles put up two more tries coupled with good conversions by Hughes to put a ribbon on its Bowl victory, 31-15. While the last match was a win, the U.S. Sevens head coach Mike Friday said in a post-tournament interview, the team must amp up its competition in the future to become contenders for the Cup.

“We need to move from being participants to competitors and contenders, and that’s the journey we’re on,” he said. “We’ve come back stronger and we need to go away and get better for next time.”

Dartmouth teammate and rugby club president Jake Levine ’15 said the tournament should reveal the fullback turned scrumhalf’s true strengths.

“I’m expecting [Madison] to be the same dominant rugby player on the field as well as a great leader,” he said. “You sort of expect that out of Madison every time he steps on the field.”

The Eagles look to take full advantage of its roster and improve for the next installment of the Sevens World Series in early December in Dubai.