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Las Vegas is always a fan favourite but 2018 was particularly special as home side USA took the spoils at the Sam Boyd Stadium.
Sealing their second ever tournament win, adding to the Cup title secured in London in 2015, captain Ben Pinkelman guided his team through an unbeaten weekend of blockbuster sevens action.
Facing Argentina in the final, their third in as many years, this was perhaps not the title-decider many would have predicted going into the fifth round of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series but, after topping Pool C with wins over Samoa, Australia and Spain and toppling England and Fiji in the knock-out stages, it was USA who became the fifth winner in as many rounds in this year’s series.
This weekend, as the teams hit the half way mark of the hugely competitive series, Pinkelman says consistency will be key in maintaining momentum.
“We had an extremely disappointing start to the season – we didn’t win a game in Dubai and that hurt all of us a lot, we were able to bounce back and make the make the Cup quarters in Cape Town, the Cup semis in Sydney but then we fell down again in Hamilton before winning in Las Vegas so it’s just that rollercoaster that the sevens series is. Looking ahead to Canada and beyond, we are striving for that consistency in performance to be able make it to the quarters every time.
“In Cape Town and Sydney we played well, we’d just have one game where we’d fall off and that’s from not doing the simple things, not taking care of the ball, dwelling on mistakes and not moving on to the next job – sevens is cruel like that but you can come back as quickly as you fall down. I think what we learned from the first four stops is just that ability to move on and focus on getting the simple stuff right – that was the difference in Las Vegas.”
Stepping in for captain Madison Hughes, due to a series plagued by injury, Pinkelman is quick to stress that while he relishes the opportunity to lead the team it’s a squad of leaders, all focused on success and the opportunity to promote rugby in the USA.
“Madison is still the leader of our team and does a lot of behind the scenes whilst he can’t be out on the field with us, but there are so many leaders in this team. With Danny, Perry, Folau it’s not just me trying to get the team focused its everyone – it’s a group effort and we all realise the opportunity and the responsibility we have in driving this team. Winning in Las Vegas you can see the traction given to the sport – we just want to get out there and success is what does that in American sports, the nation will get behind winners and we want to take every opportunity to grow the sport.”
As the next challenge approaches in Canada, USA will be without the home advantage seen in Vegas but Pinkelman knows his side will be eager to build on their unbeaten run and maximise series points as well as keeping one eye on the challenge that awaits in San Francisco in July.
“There’s no doubt that in Vegas the crowd helped to motivate the team and just get those excitement levels up but pressure can amplify or dwindle your performance so last weekend we stayed focused on the moment and away from all of the outside stuff that was going on. In Canada this weekend we want to make sure we keep that level and just focus game by game in what we know is a tough pool against hosts Canada, Australia and Uruguay.
“At the same time, in the back of the mind, there is that growing excitement knowing there is a Rugby World Cup Sevens tournament on home soil in July. Having felt that energy from the crowd in Las Vegas we want to take that confidence from last weekend, end the series strong and give the fans the opportunity to get behind us at home again. The Rugby World Cup Sevens could be the game changer for rugby in the US. We know that people follow World Cups and that a strong display in San Francisco could really amplify the game so for us it’s a very unique opportunity on so many levels.”
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