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USA enjoying 'underdogs tag' as they name 12-player squad for Olympics

By Josh Raisey
USA's men's team celebrates with their gold medals during the Rugby Americas North (RAN) Sevens tournament at Starlight Stadium in Langford, British Columbia, Canada, on August 20, 2023. Rugby Americas North Sevens is a rugby sevens Paris 2024 Qualification Event. (Photo by Don MacKinnon / AFP)

United States Sevens men’s head coach Mike Friday has named his 12-player squad for the Olympic Games later this month.

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The squad will see six players make their Olympic debuts- Naima Fuala’au, Malacchi Esdale, Aaron Cummings, Orrin Bizer, Marcus Tupuola, and Lucas Lacamp.

Perry Baker and Madison Hughes, meanwhile, will compete in their third Olympics, where they will hope to improve on their group stage exit in Rio and their quarter-final exit in Tokyo.

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Pita Vi and Adam Channel have also been included in the squad as travelling reserves.

The USA have been handed a devilish pool in Paris alongside HSBC SVNS champions and hosts France, reigning Olympic champions Fiji and Uruguay.

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The men’s sevens competition will run from July 24 to 27 at the Stade de France.

“It has been a rollercoaster 12 months for the squad since we started the build-up to the RAN qualifier this time last year,” Friday said after naming his squad.

“We have had to deal with a lot on and off the pitch. Throughout the good and tough times, the squad showed their resilience and determination to stay in the battles in what has been an unforgiving SVNS Series and the format we had to play under.

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“We have shown a level of consistency in our pool play and it is our ability to show the composure to match our ability in those moments in knock-out games that we need to focus on coming into the Olympics.

“The togetherness and competition within the group continued right up to selection and they have all pushed one another. The balance and attacking threats in the squad is very exciting and the challenge to minimize errors when in possession is the focus together with a philosophy of ‘running our blood to water’ when we defend to give us the opportunities to physically ‘blow up’ breakdowns.

“We are under no illusion how tough a group we are with the reigning Olympic champions, series champions, and hosts France, but as a pack we enjoy the underdogs tag and are confident on any day that we are able to compete with any team in the world as both these opposition teams felt the last time we met in Singapore. Uruguay are also a dogged team that we met in Madrid and asserted our possession game on.

“Preparation continues to be intense in Chula Vista with the non-rostered players, known as ‘Animal Patrol,’ selflessly working hard to physically push the squad against each of the opposition we will face, whilst also emotionally challenging them.

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“It’s certainly lively and the mutual love and respect in some of the sessions as they go at it is a pleasure to be a part of. Never is it more pertinent than right now that ‘the strength of the pack is the Dawg and the strength of the Dawg is the pack.’”

USA squad
1. Aaron Cummings
2. Maka Unufe
3. Orrin Bizer
4. Matai Leuta
5. Marcus Tupuola
6. Kevon Williams (C)
7. Naima Fuala’au
8. Malacchi Esdale
9. Stephen Tomasin
10. Madison Hughes
11. Perry Baker
12. Lucas Lacamp
13. Pita Vi (travelling reserve)
14. Adam Channel (travelling reserve)

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finn 6 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

What a difference 9 months makes! Last autumn everyone was talking about how important versatile bench players were to SA’s WC win, now we’re back to only wanting specialists? The timing of this turn is pretty odd when you consider that some of the best players on the pitch in the SA/Ireland match were Osbourne (a centre playing out of position at 15), Feinberg-Mngomezulu (a fly-half/centre playing out of position at 15), and Frawley (a utility back). Having specialists across the backline is great, but its not always necessary. Personally I think Frawley is unlikely to displace Crowley as first choice 10, but his ability to play 12 and 15 means he’s pretty much guaranteed to hold down a spot on the bench, and should get a decent amount of minutes either at the end of games or starting when there are injuries. I think Willemse is in a similar boat. Feinberg-Mngomezulu possibly could become a regular starter at 10 for the Springboks, but he might not, given he’d have to displace Libbok and Pollard. I think its best not to put all your eggs in one basket - Osbourne played so well at the weekend that he will hopefully be trusted with the 15 shirt for the autumn at least, but if things hadn’t gone well for him he could have bided his time until an opportunity opened up at centre. Similarly Feinberg-Mngomezulu is likely to get a few opportunities at 15 in the coming months due to le Roux’s age and Willemse’s injury, but given SA don’t have a single centre aged under 30 its likely that opportunities could also open up at 12 if he keeps playing there for Stormers. None of this will discount him from being given gametime at 10 - in the last RWC cycle Rassie gave a start at 10 to Frans Steyn, and even gave de Klerk minutes there off the bench - but it will give him far more opportunities for first team rugby.

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