By Peggy Shinn | July 21, 2018, 1:42 a.m. (ET)

Perry Baker runs with the ball at the Rugby World Cup Sevens on July 20, 2018 in San Francisco.

 

SAN FRANCISCO — In rugby sevens, the USA Eagles men’s team has never finished a world cup higher than 13th. Now, thanks to fast feet and fine tactics, Team USA has advanced to the quarterfinal of the Rugby World Cup Sevens 2018 tournament. 

The U.S. tromped Wales, 35-0, in the World Cup round of 16. 

Three of the home team’s five tries were scored by the fastest men in rugby sevens: Perry Baker with two and Carlin Isles with one.

The Welsh won the World Cup title in 2009 but were ranked 12th this year.

After winning the 2018 USA Sevens tournament held in Las Vegas in March — the second victory for the U.S. in the 20-year history of the World Rugby Sevens Series — the American men came to San Francisco ranked fifth. It’s their best ranking ever coming into a World Cup.

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And they did not disappoint the raucous crowd in AT&T stadium. Olympian Martin Iosefo scored the first try for the Americans, three minutes into the first half. Then Baker was on a roll.

A former football player with the Arena Football League’s Pittsburgh Power, Baker is one of the fastest men in rugby. He was the first American ever to receive the World Rugby Men’s Sevens Player of the Year award in 2017. This season, he scored 37 tries before coming to San Francisco.

Coming in for the second half, Isles scored the team’s final try of the match. A former track sprinter, he was aiming for the 2012 Olympic Games in track before he discovered rugby. 

Isles scored 49 tries in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series this season. He was also the top scorer from all teams at the Rio Olympic tournament (where the U.S. men did not advance from pool play and ended up ninth).

Playing in front of a hometown crowd, Danny Barrett also scored a try, fulfilling a childhood dream of playing at this park (though in a different sport). Barrett took up rugby in high school, then played for the Cal Bears.

With the win, the American men advanced to the quarterfinals and will play fourth-ranked England on Saturday afternoon. The English beat Samoa, 19-15, in the round of 16.

A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered five Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.