Men's Sevens
24 12
South Africa
12 7
Men's Sevens  @ Twickenham Stadium
London Sevens
  Sam Grove-White

Soaring, pool-topping Eagles knock off Series champ in London

 Martin Seras Lima

LONDON - The Men's Eagles Sevens' miraculous comeback from a Pool A-opening loss at HSBC London Sevens - the final round of the 2016-17 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series - was completed Saturday with a 24-12 defeat of season champion South Africa.

Head Coach Mike Friday's team won its first game of the season against the Blitzboks in the teams' seventh meeting since the first in Dubai nearly seven months ago. The Eagles claim the top knockout seed out of Pool A with the victory, which followed a shutout victory against Kenya and an earlier loss to Wales. They will play Australia, Pool D's runner-up, in Sunday's Cup Quarterfinals at 5:58 a.m. ET. The final round of the Series is being streamed live online on World Rugby's website.

Though Wales had sunk the Eagles first up Saturday and nearly drew South Africa if not for a late missed conversion, Kenya did the U.S. a favor with a defeat of the Welsh in its final pool match. That victory - and the Eagles' improved point differential - put the Eagles in good stead by the time they kicked off against South Africa. Stephen Tomasin kept the Blitzboks from drawing first blood with a try-saving tackle at the foot of the try line in the opening minute before ticking the scoreboard himself. He chased his own chip deep into the South African end and found his captain, Madison Hughes, in support. Hughes drew the defender before popping the ball back to Tomasin for the try beside the posts.

Ruhan Nel mimicked Tomasin's idea in South Africa's fourth-minute attack, chipping over both Americans to level the scores at 7-7. The teams were even in restarts retained, but the Eagles were dealt a blow in that category when Maka Unufe was forced to leave the field with an injury in the sixth minute. A penalty had been called, and Folau Niua sent the ball into touch near the South Africa 22.

The Eagles won the set piece and moved the ball wide before it came back to the same touch line for Ben Pinkelman. The young forward had played nearly every minute of the first two matches but strode away from one attempted tackle and two additional defenders to give the Eagles a 12-7 lead. Unlike in previous meetings, the U.S. held onto that advantage at halftime in the face of another attack from the opposition.

Friday asked for more of the same from his side during the break, but the Blitzboks would partially take the wind out the Eagles' sails with Siviwe Soyizwapi scoring in the corner from the first second-half possession. Perry Baker, the Series-leading try-scorer on 50 five-pointers heading into the match, finally broke free against the Blitzboks' suffocating coverage after South Africa had knocked the 10th-minute restart. Holding up his run along the touch line in the face of two defenders, Baker sidestepped his way past both and raced past two more chasers to slide into the corner, 17-12.

An important turnover at midfield would prove to be the game-changing moment in the match, as, instead of South Africa attacking downfield just an unconverted try away from tying the game, the Eagles turned it around to extend the lead. Durutalo ran behind Baker for a switch play and used his mighty strength to send a defender to the ground for the 24-12 try. Baker's solid defensive work rate in the final minute also kept the Blitzboks from a consolation try as the U.S. saw out the impressive, 24-12, victory.

From being at the bottom of their pool to topping it in the span of three games, the Eagles are on course to keep their fifth-place standing on the Series - their highest since the circuit began. Should they beat Australia in Sunday's Cup Quarterfinal, they will solidify that standing. The knockout match is scheduled to kick off at Twickenham Stadium at 5:58 a.m. ET, with the live stream available to viewers in the United States on World Rugby's Sevens Series website.

Men's Eagles Sevens | v. South Africa

1. Alex Schwarz

2. Ben Pinkelman

3. Don Pati

4. Matai Leuta

5. Mike Te'o

6. Andrew Durutalo

7. Folau Niua

8. Maka Unufe

9. Stephen Tomasin

10. Madison Hughes (C)

11. Perry Baker

12. Martin Iosefo

13. Naima Fualaau

South Africa | v. USA

1. Chris Dry

2. Philip Snyman

3. Dylan Sage

4. Ryan Oosthuizen

5. Werner Kok

6. Siviwe Soyizwapi

7. Branco du Preez

8. Sandile Ngcobo

9. Dewald Human

10. Cecil Afrika

11. Rosko Specman

12. Ruhan Nel

13. Marco Labuschagne

Men's Eagles Sevens | 24

Tries: Tomasin, Pinkelman, Baker, Durutalo

Conversions: Hughes (2)

South Africa | 12

Tries: Nel, Soyizwapi

Conversions: Afrika

Men's Eagles Sevens | HSBC London Sevens

v. Wales - L 28-12

v. Kenya - W 47-0

v. South Africa - W 24-12

Cup QF v. Australia - Sunday, May 21 @ 5:58 a.m. ET