USA great Madison Hughes reveals ‘unfinished business’ after SVNS return
With the United States of America failing to medal at the Tokyo Olympics two years ago, playmaker Madison Hughes was ready to “move on” and sail into the sunset after a storied sevens career.
In a team that boasted plenty of star power by way of Perry Baker, Carlin Isles and Garrett Bender, Hughes took the circuit by storm and finished the 2015/16 campaign as the top point scorer.
But that’s just one sentence, one season, which could never justifiably detail the impact that Hughes had on North American rugby, the circuit and the United States sevens program.
Hughes’ skill on the field, leadership qualities and experience were simply invaluable to the USA sevens side, and the void the playmaker left behind proved hard to fill in the years since his departure.
But with one eye on a third appearance at the Olympics ahead of the 2024 Paris Games, Hughes returned to the SVNS circuit for the first time in two years at the season opener in Dubai this month.
In an exclusive interview with RugbyPass after the United States’ quarter-final loss to traditional sevens heavyweights New Zealand, Hughes revealed he has “unfinished business” at the Games.
“At the Olympics, I feel like I’ve got some unfinished business there. Both in Tokyo and in Rio (we) didn’t quite get the performances we wanted at the Games,” Hughes said.
“Would love to have another crack at that bit for not just concentrating on getting back in the mix with the team and trying to reestablish and figure out my role within the team and how I can best push the team forward.
“Kind of had left the door open. The plan was kind of to come back but was figuring out all sorts of things,” he added when asked whether it was always the plan to return.
“Almost a dream scenario was that I was happy to move on with my life and I was feeling in a good place but I definitely missed it too much, missed being with the boys, missed being with the team.
Madison Hughes is BACK ‼️
— USA Rugby (@USARugby) December 2, 2023
“Excited to be back here and now we’ll see what happens.”
Walking into The Sevens Stadium for the first time in four years as an active United States player on Saturday morning, Hughes looked focused ahead of his comeback tournament.
But the All Blacks Sevens proved to be a mountain too tough to climb early on the second day. New Zealand ran away with a relentlessly dominant 40-nil win over Mike Friday’s men.
With the Americans looking to make amends on the SVNS circuit after a year of “inconstancy” in 2022/23 – with the Eagles finishing 10th – the quarter-final defeat offers more lessons to be learnt.
“As we reflect on that game, kick-offs are the ones that stand out to me – we just weren’t recovering our own ball and they were recovering a lot of their own kicks,” Hughes said.
“We really didn’t have much possession and if you have to defend for very long periods against a team like New Zealand they’re going to start finding gaps.
“I think we have to have a look at that kick-off and then see defensively where they were coming through us.”
Hughes’ return should put a smile on the faces of sevens fans around the world, but those very same supporters will also be counting down the days until another American makes his return.
Two-time World Rugby Sevens Player of the Year Perry Baker was rested for the Dubai leg of the 2023/24 SVNS Series after helping the USA qualify for the Olympics.
With Baker and Hughes both in the mix for selection, there’s plenty to like about the potential of the USA Eagles Sevens and the heights they could reach if they get things right.
“There’s definitely a little bit of a different balance with the squad. We had a lot of very established people within the team who’ve been there for a long period of time and some of those are still around.
“We’ve got a good young group coming through and I think that’s really exciting to see and that’s what’s going to take the team forward.
“We’ve got guys who are resting this weekend so Perry Baker, Kevon Williams, Joe Schroeder and Stphen Tomasin – four fantastic players.
“When they come back into the mix I think you’ll see a little bit more of that balance between the experienced guys and that younger, exciting group that are coming through.
“It’s a fun balance, I think it’s a fun group to be around. I’m 31 now and they’re a bunch of 20, 22-year-olds so that’s taking me back to my youth and that’s a good fun team to be in.”