Rugby

Carlin Isles and Perry Baker spearhead USA rugby sevens revolution

The pair are neck-and-neck on tries, and their rivalry has propelled Team USA from speedy sideshow to serious contenders at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

By Andrew Binner ·

You could argue that USA flyers Carlin Isles and Perry Baker are rugby sevens' first two global super stars.

After years on the World Rugby Sevens Series circuit (eight for Isles, six for Baker), fans of all nations simply can't get enough of rugby's fastest men.

Opposition defensive lines seem stuck in slow-motion whenever either gets the ball, while explosive, length-of-the-field scores for the United States have become something of the norm.

Their sports careers have mimicked each other to a degree, with both being offered NFL contracts before pursuing rugby careers.

Both blazed their way to 200 tries each at the Los Angeles Sevens.

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Like any good sprinters, they're both fiercely competitive, and want to hold the USA record for most tries scored.

Isles possesses faster out-and-out speed than Baker, but the latter's two World Rugby Sevens Player of the Year awards suggest that he is a more well-rounded rugby player.

Their friendly rivalry, with a little help from the guiding hand of an experienced coach, has catapulted the Eagles into the upper echelons of rugby sevens.

Team strategy

When Englishman Mike Friday first took the USA reigns in 2014, his team rarely challenged for serious silverware and Isles and Baker were more thrilling sideshow acts, than the tour's main men.

But that was all about to change.

Friday decided to rotate pair during matches, meaning one speedster would empty his tank on the pitch, before a fresh new model would be rolled out without the team losing any speed out wide. There was no respite for the opposition.

Both men also improved significantly on other parts of their games too and, slowly but surely, the United States started becoming more regular visitors to the podium.

"It is brilliant to have these two fantastic players in our armoury and they are more than just speedsters," Friday told ESPN about the duo, who were both offered NFL contracts before pursing rugby careers.

"When you look at their all-round rugby game they are now seen as just rugby players not crossovers or athletes" - Mike Friday, USA Coach.

"We look at them as one player - one starts a game and then the other finishes."

"I hope that they both achieve 200 tries and 1,000 points in front of their home crowd and they are both so competitive with each other.

The Chuckle Brothers

Fast-forward to the 2018-19 season, and Team USA were the world's No. 1 side for the majority of the season, before finishing second reigning Olympic champions Fiji.

Using the deadly duo's speed as a foundation for his game plan, Friday had made his charges genuine Olympic gold medal contenders for Tokyo 2020.

"They are exceptionally fast rugby players that we refer to either as tweedle-dee and tweedle-dum, the Chuckle Brothers or the race horses depending on what they have done," Friday continued to ESPN.

"They are constantly working to get even better and defences are setting up to stop Perry and Carlin from scoring on the outside so they have to continually evolve to break down defences which is something they have learnt."

Best chance for Olympic gold

Tokyo 2020 will very likely be the last time Isles and Baker play together at an Olympic Games.

At 30-years-old, it's not inconceivable that Isles will be around for another crack at Olympic gold at Paris 20204, but Baker's 33 years mean this is his last chance in rugby sevens.

With Team USA enjoying their most consistent and successful Olympic cycle to date, belief will be high within the team that they can bring home the win.

A gold medal, and it's publicity in the United States, could propel the Eagles to new heights after Japan.

But whatever the outcome, Isles and Baker's tries have already inspired the next generation of American speedsters to give rugby sevens a go.