Has Rio awakened the United States Sevens Rugby giant?

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    13 Jan 2014     Getty Images

Forty-three players - 25 men and 18 women - have accepted contracts to train at the OTC full-time and use the high performance facilities offered by the United States Olympic Committee two years out from Rugby Sevens' Olympic debut in Rio.

The moment Olympic Medals became available it was not a case of if, but when, the United States Sevens players gained massive funding boosts from the United States Olympic Commision.

Zack Test, Nick Edwards and Folau Niua headline the men's squad of 25, which does include Carlin Isles, but there are some notable omissions including Colin Hawley.

“As we head towards the Pan Am Games in 2015 and Olympic qualification we are continuing to develop the USA Rugby/USOC residency programme at the Olympic Training Centre in San Diego,” said USA Rugby Chief Executive Officer and President of Rugby Operations, Nigel Melville.

“We appreciate the support that the USOC are providing for us and will continue to build competitive men’s and women’s Eagles Sevens teams during the next 12 months.
Matt Hawkins' tenure as head coach has so far produced modest results, the Eagles sitting 14th in the HSBC Sevens World Series standings after the first three tournaments in Australia, Dubai and South Africa.

“We have a squad list of 25, which is great for us. Normally we would have 15 guys, to have an extra 10 is phenomenal and it’s been a great effort from the administration to get that together," said Hawkins, whose side hosts the next round of the World Series, the USA Sevens in Las Vegas on 24-26 January.

The country's women will also host a round of their own World Series in Atlanta on 15-16 February.

“For all of the new guys, we’re expecting the same thing we expected from the guys who joined us four months ago. You’ve got to come in, get comfortable with the system, get to know what’s going on and start proving yourselves.

"We need to see where you are and what you can do as soon as possible. There’s no time to sit around and wait. Essentially, we’re looking to understand who you are and make you a complete rugby player in the sevens sense.”

Five athletes - Eric Deuchele, Ben Leatigaga, Andrew Locke, Nu'u Punimata and Marcus Savatu - will join Hawkins’ squad as part of the World Class Athlete Program, which provides outstanding Armed Forces athletes with support and training to compete and succeed in national and international competitions and in the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The USA's next task will be their home round of the HSBC Sevens World Series, where they face pool matches against Argentina, France and Spain.

Meanwhile the Women’s Eagles squad contains a number of players who helped secure a third place finish at Rugby World Cup Sevens in Moscow last June, including Victoria Folayan, Emilie Bydwell, Jillion Potter and Deven Owsiany.

Suggitt, though, has also included a number of young players in the squad who have come through the High Performance Pathway, as well as a few crossover athletes.

“As we prepare for this year, we must always remember the good work the previous players in residency put into the programme,” explained Suggitt, whose side are preparing for the Atlanta Sevens on 15-16 February.

“They helped establish the foundation and now it is up to the new group to shape this and make it even better.

“We have some brand new players like Jessica Javelet who are completely new to rugby who will add a new dimension to how we train and play. From our All-American programme we have players like Megan Bonny and Rebekah Siebach who have added speed and size.

“All are still very new to Sevens but they are learning very quickly.”

The Women’s Eagles currently lie seventh in the 2013/14 IRB Women’s Sevens World Series standings after the opening round in Dubai in November, but will hope home advantage can inspire them to a better result in Atlanta having reached the final of the USA round in Houston in 2013.

Men's Eagles, 2014 Sevens residency squad: Danny Barrett, Garrett Bender, Pat Blair, Carlin Isles, Eric Deuchele (WCAP), Andrew Durutalo, Nick Edwards, Tai Enosa, Pono Haitsuka, Jack Halalilo, Madison Hughes, Ben Leatigaga (WCAP), Andrew Locke (WCAP), Ryan Matyas, Ben Nicholls, Folau Niua, Nu'u Punimata (WCAP), Marcus Satavu (WCAP), Shalom Suniula, Mike Teo, Zack Test, Brett Thompson, Stephen Tomasin, Chris Turori, Michael Ziegler

Women’s Eagles Sevens residency squad: Megan Bonny, Emilie Bydwell, Ryan Carlyle, Lorrie Clifford, Lauren Doyle, Victoria Folayan, Kelly Griffin, Jessica Javelet, Kathryn Johnson, Hannah Lockwood, Hannah Lopez, Dana Meschisi, Deven Owsiany, Jillion Potter, Rebekah Siebach, Liz Sowers, Shaina Turley, Amelia Villines.