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U.S. Men’s Rugby Places Sixth, Highest Finish In An Olympics

By Lisa Costantini | July 28, 2021, 7:20 a.m. (ET)

Danny Barrett breaks past Siviwe Soyizwapi of Team South Africa at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on July 28, 2021 in Chofu, Tokyo, Japan.  


TOKYO — When the U.S. men’s rugby team looks back on the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, they’ll remember when the tables turned on them in the quarterfinal match against Great Britain. 

Up 21-0 late in the first half and in complete control of the match, four unanswered tries by their opponent ended Team USA’s hope for an Olympic medal in a tough 26-21 loss.

Having played with an abundance of confidence to finish second in a tough group stage — with two wins and a single loss (to South Africa) — the Eagles had high expectations entering the knockout round. But with the heartbreaking loss to Team GB, the Americans played out the tournament in the bottom half of the bracket and eventually placed sixth officially, with a 21-14 win against Canada in the fifth place semifinal and a 28-7 loss against South Africa in their final match.

Despite their disappointment, Team USA improved upon their finish at the Olympic Games Rio 2016 when they placed ninth overall in Brazil and the sport of rugby sevens made its Olympic debut. But the team had hopes of at least a top four finish in Tokyo as the Eagles had been in good form heading into the Games.

“It’s tough,” admitted the fastest man in rugby and two-time Olympian Carlin Isles, about how hard it is to deal with defeat. “Especially when you were so close, and it slipped through your hands.”

Fiji took home their second straight gold medal defeating New Zealand 27-12 in the championship match. It is only the second gold medal in history for the tiny South Pacific island. In the battle for third and the final medal at stake, Argentina won the bronze with a 17-12 win over Great Britain.

The men’s rugby tournament proved to be an exciting competition over the three days with all matches held in Tokyo Stadium, the same venue that hosted the Rugby World Cup in 2019. But Team USA will look back at how close they were to be playing for a medal that was simply not to be.

“Overall, we’re going to leave disappointed,” said first-time Olympian Stephen Tomasin. “We came to play for a medal. Obviously we’re proud of ourselves and proud of each other for the journey we’ve been on, but this isn’t the final product we wanted to show. Unfortunately, that’s the way life goes sometimes.”  

At 35-years-old, this may be the last Olympic Games for veteran Perry Baker. He has become a legend in the sport and was twice selected as World Rugby’s Player of the Year. With Paris 2024 Olympics only three years away, however, we may not have seen the last of the two-time Olympian.

Seven-year head coach Mike Friday remains optimistic the team’s performance in Tokyo will have a positive impact on the future of the sport in the USA. 

“With the way that they carried themselves and the way that they've represented this country,” he said, “hopefully will inspire young boys and young girls to take up the sport and aspire to be the next group that play in the Olympics.”

Next up is the women’s rugby competition where Team USA looks to improve upon their 5th place finish at Rio 2016.

Want to follow Team USA athletes during the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020? Visit TeamUSA.org/Tokyo2020 to view the medal table, results and competition schedule.

Lisa Costantini

Lisa Costantini is a freelance writer based in Orlando. She has covered Olympic and Paralympic sports for various publications, and has contributed to TeamUSA.org since 2011.

Related Athletes

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Danny Barrett

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Carlin Isles

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Stephen Tomasin