By Karen Price | June 02, 2019, 2:14 p.m. (ET)
Stephen Tomasin dives during the quarterfinal match with Kenya on June 2, 2019 in Paris, France.

 

The U.S. men didn’t win the 2018-19 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, but shy of that, the Eagles could hardly have asked for a better season.

Even with a 24-7 loss to South Africa in the bronze-medal game on Sunday in Paris, the U.S. still finished the series in second place and, more importantly, clinched a spot in the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.

Going into the final day, the Eagles had the chance to win the World Rugby Sevens Series for the first time ever. They trailed Fiji by just two points in the standings, despite Fiji’s having won four tournaments and the U.S. just one, by virtue of having reached the semifinals at every event this season. Fiji missed the semifinals in two of the 10 tournaments. 

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But the U.S. would have had to win gold on Sunday to overtake Fiji and that didn’t happen. The two teams met in the semifinals and Fiji won, 33-14, to clinch their first-place overall finish for the fourth time and move on to the final.

“Congratulations to Fiji on securing the series title,” said Eagles coach Mike Friday to USA Rugby. “It was certainly an exciting game of end to end and Fiji managed to put us under some pressure at critical times which lead to us not executing. I cannot fault the boys' character and commitment to one another; and as a group and rugby sevens nation, we have earned our place amongst the traditional superpowers of the sevens game.”

The U.S. did lock down second place for its best finish ever. Previous best for the Eagles was fifth place in 2016-17, and they finished sixth last year. The team also guaranteed a spot at in Tokyo in 2020 by finishing in the top four, something it accomplished when it reached the quarterfinals in London two weeks ago. The Eagles had to win a regional championship to qualify for Rio in 2016.

The U.S. medaled in all but three series stops this season, finishing with one gold, four silver and two bronze medals. 

Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.