Nate Ebner and USA Rugby can’t medal but have a shot at ninth place
RIO DE JANEIRO — The US men’s rugby team split its Wednesday matches, falling to Fiji — a loss that knocked the Americans out of medal contention — before topping Brazil for a chance to finish as high as ninth in the Olympics.
Nate Ebner, the Patriots safety/special teamer who took a leave of absence from training camp to pursue his Olympic dream, scored a try against Fiji in an attempt to lead a comeback, but the US fell, 24-19. To advance to the quarterfinals, the US needed to beat Fiji, draw, or lose by fewer than 4 points.
“Tough game,” Ebner said. “That’s one of the best teams in the world. They’ve shown it year after year. We gave them everything we had. It just wasn’t enough. Too little, too late. Hats off to them; they played tremendously.”
The Americans bounced back in their second match against Brazil for a 24-12 victory. The win advanced them to the ninth-place game Thursday against Spain. US coach Mike Friday said he has no plans to let Ebner sit out to avoid injury.
“I don’t think Nate would allow us to do that, and I don’t think [Bill] Belichick would allow us to do that,” said Friday. “Nate came here to do a job, and the nature of the man is that he’ll want to finish that job.”
The Americans took the match against Fiji to the last minute when Ebner sprinted from almost halfway to score a try in the right corner to make it 24-19. But Madison Hughes, the US captain, missed the conversion from out wide, leaving the margin at 5 points and meaning the Americans missed out by the slimmest of margins.
“This is huge for the sport,” Ebner said. “We got here, and we gave it everything we had.
“Hopefully, the American people see how great of a sport this is. Really, it’s going to be up to the people in the United States and how they respond to what they’ve seen and kids getting out there playing.
“That’s what it comes down to ultimately. We’ll see what kind of effect that has.”
Christopher L. Gasper of the Globe staff contributed to this report from Rio de Janeiro. Material from the Associated Press was used.