Suggitt: We struggled in Guangzhou

CHULA VISTA, Calif. – The Women’s Eagles Sevens returned to the United States Olympic Committee’s Olympic Training Center following the fourth stop on the 2013-14 IRB Women’s Sevens World Series tournament in Guangzhou, China.

The Eagles lost each of their three pool matches at Guangzhou Uni Town Stadium to Canada, 35-7, Russia, 19-10, and France (14-12), before losing the Bowl Semifinal to China, 17-7. Ric Suggitt’s team missed the Cup round for the second time all season, with the only other Bowl appearance in the last tournament in Sao Paulo, Brazil. They turned it around in the 11th-place match to beat Brazil 31-0.

At Emirates Dubai Rugby Sevens during the 2012-13 Series, the Eagles won the Bowl, but advanced to the Cup at each of the three remaining tournaments. With those results, the Eagles finished fourth, four points behind Canada.

A Cup Final appearance on home turf at Houston 7s last year was a turning point in the Eagles’ season, which culminated with a trip to the IRB Rugby World Cup Sevens 2013 in Moscow, Russia. This year, however, top-four finishes have eluded the Eagles, but Suggitt is using the Series as a bigger tool to prepare an Olympic team.

“We want to win every tournament we play in but this year was used to give players experience,” Suggitt said. “At the end of the day I only have 15 spots at the Olympic Training Center. For me to be able to compare them, I need to be able to see them train and I need to be able to see them play internationally.

“. . . we didn’t catch and pass very well and we didn’t tackle very well, and those are the basic fundamentals of rugby.”

Moscow treated the Eagles fairly well, considering the humid weather during the build-up week and the rain storm that began prior to the kickoff of the Third-Place Match between the Eagles and Spain.

Following the team’s return to the States, Suggitt and the coaching staff updated the Residency roster with some new faces to replace others, including AIG Women’s Collegiate All-Americans Rebekah Siebach – who had previously played with the Eagles – and Dana Meschisi. Other players like Lorrie Clifford, Jessica Javelet, and Liz Sowers, who did not have extensive rugby backgrounds, picked up the game quickly.

In China, two crossover athletes – Alev Kelter and Elana Meyers – earned their first caps, while Shaina Turley, who had earned her sole sevens cap at the World Cup in 2009, also earned a place in the team.

“The bottom line for us wasn’t that we had too many crossover athletes or anything,” Suggitt said of the Guangzhou performance. “They played as well as what was expected of them. Where we let ourselves down: we didn’t catch and pass very well and we didn’t tackle very well, and those are the basic fundamentals of rugby.

“It’s not like we don’t do it at practice all the time. We’ll go back to the fundamentals of the game after our recovery week and we’ll go back down to ground zero. They’ll learn how to tackle again and they’ll learn how to catch and pass again.”

The second day in Guangzhou was wet for all teams, but it seemed the Eagles struggled the most with knock-ons, losing multiple attacking phases to their own turnovers. At the OTC in sunny southern California, Suggitt’s staff attempts to recreate those sorts of conditions by using the sprinklers on the field hockey court without “running up the water bill too much.”

“With all the game film that they have, the knowledge should be there,” Suggitt said of his team. “At the end of the day, it comes down to the execution on the field for that 16 minutes and we didn’t do that [in Guangzhou].

“As a group, we have to take a solid look at ourselves in the mirror, we have to go back to the drawing board, and really start focusing on the things that matter – that’s working hard in practice, working smart in practice, and doing the fundamentals correctly.”

The Eagles are currently seventh in the Series standings with Amsterdam Sevens the final opportunity to move up in the rankings. Should they finish eighth, the Eagles will not participate in next year’s Series as a core team.

“Do we have, inside of us, the character to rebound after [that performance],” Suggitt said. “And that was the message I gave the girls, too. This is a character-checker right now. We struggled, we didn’t get the two wins we thought we were going to get on day one, and then how did we rebound on day two? How do we rebound after that tournament to make sure we don’t go into a spiral?”

Suggitt’s team will not win the Series this year, the second of its existence, but the bigger picture encompasses five colored rings and a podium: the Rio 2016 Olympic Summer Games. The 2014-15 Series will help determine the Olympic qualifiers in the women’s bracket.

“With what we’re building for, we’ve definitely had a plan to make sure that we were competitive at the World Cup – which we were – and we looked at this year as a time to retool to get ready for next year,” Suggitt said. “Now we just have to get J.J. knowing more about rugby, get Elana and Alev more knowledge about rugby.”

With last year’s fourth-place finish a measuring stick for the Eagles, it is no wonder Suggitt and his team are disappointed with how this year has been shaped. It is not the end of the world, however; the game goes on and the Eagles will fight another day.

Hear Suggitt discuss fan support

“It is how it is,” Suggitt said. “We finished how we finished and we’re the ones who have to move forward. It’s either cheer and support or sit back and point fingers. I don’t worry about that stuff.

“For me, I’ve got a job to do. I have to put a team on the field that’s going to win, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Amsterdam 7s kicks off at NRCA Stadium May 16. Pools and fixtures will be released by the IRB in due course.