What is it they say about home advantage?
When the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series rolled into Las Vegas at the weekend, the USA made it count, steamrolling past Samoa in a 27-0 hammering to bring to an end a run that had seen the team lose all four finals so far this season.
Defeats in the showpiece matches against New Zealand in both Dubai and Sydney and to Fiji in Cape Town and Hamilton meant that the USA had ended every meeting of the 2018/19 season as runner-up, leaving the Eagles as the league’s midseason pacesetter. Yet, the team still remained without that elusive victory.
However, that changed at Nevada’s Sam Boyd Stadium on Sunday, with Ben Pinkelman scoring twice in a five-try victory, managing to shut out a Samoan side which had plundered 33 points in its semifinal against Argentina.
“There’s something about singing your national anthem at home,” Pinkelman told the Las Vegas Review Journal after lifting the trophy in front of an American crowd. “It’s so passionate. So emotional. It just gets everybody on the same page.”
Captain Madison Hughes, Matai Leuta and Martin Iosefo also touched down for the Americans in what was a repeat of the 2010 Adelaide Sevens final — the occasion, nine years ago, of team USA’s first ever final.
These days, though, reaching the latter stages of competitions is something of a regular occurrence; this Pinkelman-inspired triumph followed a similarly dominant display in the 2018 Las Vegas event. A year ago on March 4, the USA beat Argentina 28-0 — the first time the USA had won a World Series tournament since the 2015 London Sevens.
The trophy-winning victory over Samoa meant that the host nation ended the tournament having won five out of six games, with the team’s only loss coming against Argentina in the group stage — a 26-24 reversal in the USA’s second contest.
However, Hughes’ outfit recovered, coming through a semifinal thriller against New Zealand before disposing of Samoa to claim glory. Carlin Isles — the USA’s third highest try-scorer of all time — ended the competition with the most tries.
“We’ve always loved it here,” added Hughes, praising the local fans for their contribution to his side’s back-to-back wins. “The support is so amazing. We know it’s going to be hard going to the final every weekend. We just want to keep getting better.”
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The tournament took place amid a backdrop of uncertainty and anger in the rugby world, with reported plans for a new 12-team world league provoking widespread controversy. World Rugby has been criticized by players and national unions, with the governing body accused of compromising player welfare with plans for a new competition.
The reported plans have also sparked a dispute with Pacific Island nations and lower tier national bodies, following suggestions that the lucrative tournament could be ring-fenced, excluding certain countries.