U.S. Markets close in 5 hrs 17 mins

USA sevens sparkle at Twickenham to secure Olympic spot

Martin Pengelly


The USA on Saturday became the first men’s rugby sevens team to qualify for the Olympic Games in Tokyo next year, after winning their three games on day one of the London Sevens at Twickenham.

Related: If you build it, will they succumb? Houston opens rugby field of dreams

Going into London, coach Mike Friday’s team led the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series table by three points from Fiji, the Olympic champions. There is one more event to go, in Paris next weekend.

The World Series title has been won by the traditional powers of the shortened game: New Zealand (12 titles), Fiji (three), South Africa (three) and Samoa (one). The USA’s highest finish before this year was fifth, in 2017.

Needing to advance from pool play in London to make a top four slot secure, and thereby punch their ticket to Tokyo, the Eagles beat Spain, Wales and Australia to make Sunday’s cup rounds with relative ease. Fiji also advanced undefeated, booking their trip to Tokyo. The sevens All Blacks lost a game, to England, but advanced and booked their place in Japan.

In Sunday’s quarter-finals the USA will play Canada; Fiji will play surprise package Ireland, who beat the hosts in pool play; South Africa will take on Australia; and New Zealand will face France.

In a text message to the Guardian from Twickenham, Friday said he was “so proud and pleased for all the boys and management to be the first men’s team to achieve Olympic qualification. It is a credit to all of their hard work and sacrifices they and their families make for this cause.

“We now need to focus on the next task, which is focusing on playing the next game to the best of our ability and ensuring we support one another in every moment. Let’s see where it takes us in these last two legs. If we want to win the Series, we have to go and get it.”

The Eagles have won one tournament on this season’s series, their own Las Vegas event in March. But they have made five finals and never fallen before the last four, keeping up the pace even without two injured star players, double world player of the year Perry Baker and Danny Barrett. Both are playing in London.

An HSBC film about Perry Baker.

England are fifth on the World Series ladder and Samoa sixth. Australia are seventh, having this week unearthed a competitor for the Eagles’ Carlin Isles as the fastest man in sevens when they plucked Trae “Quadzilla” Williams from track and field.

Related: Trae 'Quadzilla' Williams seeks to muscle in on Olympic rugby sevens

Japan are not a power in sevens but will play at the Games as hosts. The other seven slots in the men’s event will be determined by regional qualifiers and a last-chance tournament. American success opens the way for Canada to play at the Games for the first time, out of a relatively weak qualifying region.

Rugby union returned to the Olympics in Rio in 2016, after more than 90 years away. Friday took the US past Canada in the qualifiers and added New England Patriots NFL star Nate Ebner to his squad for Brazil, but in a tight tournament they could only finish ninth. Fiji won the first gold medal in any sport in their history with a thrashing of Great Britain.

The USA women’s sevens team are second in their World Series. They will also qualify for the 2020 Games, simply by earning a point for taking the field in their last tournament, in Biarritz in mid-June. Australia are the reigning women’s champions.