HOUSTON, TX– There are certain things you try to stay away from when you’re building a rugby team around athletes that may or may not have a ton of experience actually playing the game or don’t get to play together as often as their opponents. Injuries, unforced errors and bad decision-making are right there at the top of the list. But the biggest obstacle for a young or inexperienced team can the penalties that it takes, often committed in the act of trying to do too much or make something happen. Italy handled Team USA 30-10 because the Azzurri kept their infractions to a minimum, while the Eagles did not. As a result, here are the 13 most reasons why Team USA lost to Team Italy, listed by position:
1 Shawn Pittman (London Welsh)
2 Chris Biller (Northampton Saints)
3 Eric Fry (Wellington Old Boys RFC)
4 Louis Stanfill (NYAC)
5 Brian Doyle (NYAC)
6 Taylor Mokate (Wellington Old Boys RFC)
7 Scott Lavalla (Stade Francais)
8 Todd Clever* (NTT Shining Arcs)
9 Mike Petri (NYAC)
10 Roland Suniula (Chicago Griffins)
11 Luke Hume (Old Blue)
14 James Paterson (Glendale Raptors)
15 Chris Wyles (Saracens)
This is a solid 13 players and all of them left everything they had on the pitch, along with the substitutes. But it didn’t translate into a victory because rugby is played by 15 players and when your starting centers, #12 Andrew Suniula (Cornish Pirates) and #13 Paul Emerick (London Wasps), are red-carded in the 44th and 65th minutes, respectively, there is no way in hell you’re going to beat a team of Italy’s stature – blistering Houston heat or not. So in every way, 13 proved to be an unlucky number for the Americans.
The athleticism is there. The toughness is there. The system that Coach Mike Tolkin is implementing will give these attributes every opportunity to succeed. But the onus is on the players to avoid back-breaking penalties and and drive-stalling knock-ons, which the USA did not do on Saturday night. The good news is that these shortcomings are fixable mistakes that can be addressed at training and reduced with game experience.
What to do now? Tip your hats to the Italians (they won the match, despite the heat and a rousing defensive effort by the shorthanded Americans) and their scrum half Edoardo Gori, who had a solid game and rumbled for a key try just before the half. After the hat-tipping, Team USA needs to think about the mistakes they made… and learn from them. Hopefully, there next match in the USA will have 17,000 in the stands, like there was in Houston… One final tipping of our hat to the fans that supported the Eagles’ cause.
P.s… Here’s to a speedy recovery for Andrew Suniula, who broke his arm in the match.