KINGSTON, ONTARIO – It is understandable if the only Kingston you’re familiar with is in Jamaica, not Canada. This Kingston is a nice city and boasts Queen’s University and Canada’s Military College (their West Point). So, it was kind of fitting that it hosted the annual USA-Canada match, nicknamed “The War of 1812.” Fittingly, Team USA prepped for this battle at West Point, before bussing it up to the game.
Americans new to rugby, will likely be surprised that the Canadians have often gotten the better of the USA in this border war. In the 47 matches played, Canada is 34-12- 1… with many matches being decided by close margins – this last battle was one of those – the hosts held on to win a see-saw battle, 28-25.
The Debut for Head Coach Mike Tolkin was a mixed bag, with more positives than negatives. With Mike being such good friend of the show, granting RWU interviews with him and his players while at the training camp, writing this analysis was tough. However my credibility as a rugby pundit would take a hit if I let that stop me from giving an honest review of the match.
Considering the size of the two countries and the lack of time together over the course of the year like the Tier 1 (6N and 3N) nations, there were some chemistry and handling issues, that I will get into after the Breakdown. Here was the US team for last Saturday’s game.
Props: Mike MacDonald was very good and Eric Fry was okay. Fry looks a bit better, but it still seems as if he walks or jogs a bit too much. His mobility must improve.
Hooker: A solid effort from Chris Biller; not world-beating – but he did his job in the set pieces.
Locks: Brian Doyle was fine in the set-pieces and had some decent breaks in the loose but still needs to up his presence. Lou Stanfill was not out and about as much, likely because he was left with the tight lock duties.
Flankers: Andrew Duratolo did not look like a #7. Maybe a 6.5, but definitely not a 7. Cam Dolan of Life University might be worth a look but finding a new #7 behind Captain Clever is critical. Scott LaValla looked very comfy at 6 and had a solid game.
8-man: Todd Clever looked good as usual, it just seemed that he didn’t get to make his usual impact as an #8. Hopefully, that will come with time.
Scrum Half: Mike Petri did a great job with all things considered. No complaints.
Fly Half: Will Holder’s kicking for goal was unsteady and his set piece defense is reason for concern. But he’s young and talented and had some good moments. Credit Coach Tolkin for throwing him into the fire. They need to stick with him.
Centers: Andrew Suniula played okay, but didn’t do that much or have an impact. Paul Emerick was his hard-nosed self but killed at least 3 moves by not dishing to his wings
Wings: Luke Hume looked like the goods, with his botched clearance kick that led to the game-winning try as the only blight. James Patterson is not an out-and-out wing – he’s like a 2nd fullback in the Cory Jane mode – but his defense keeps him there and I have no complaints… plus he can score when given the chance.
Full Back: Chris Wyles was easily Team USA’s Man of the Match, set-up a nice try plus made key tackles to stop breaks.
That’s my player analysis, let’s now look at the team aspects of the match.
Scrums: Solid… Canada is not Georgia or Italy but it was nice to see good scrummaging from Team USA.
Lineouts: Not one complaint, they went well – especially the back-ball to Clever.
Mauls: The open play mauls were okay but off the lineouts, Canada hindered the USA’s flow.
Rucks: Good rucking and counter-rucking, but I felt the Americans needed to go into contact better to make for a faster recycling.
Defense: This was the biggest issue. Too many missed tackles. The #10 Channel on defense was taken advantage of on the set pieces. Holder and Durutalo didn’t click and that needs to be addressed.
Transition: Canada won this battle easily with turnover ball, attacking well and making breaks for tries. The USA didn’t transition from attack to defense quickly enough and conversely, when the Eagles went from defense to offense, they allowed Canada to slow the ball down and made some poor decisions.
Handling: This was poor and needs work but will likely come as players get familiar with each other.
Kicking: In hand, the kicking was not bad by Holder, Wyles and Patterson – Hume’s one kick notwithstanding. Holder’s kicking for goal, however, was not good enough for this level on this day.
Attack: Team USA’s upbeat and open attack was refreshing and except for the odd loose or unmade pass, seems to fit the players very well.
Negatives: The chemistry is not there yet and that’s understandable, considering the limited time Coach Tolkin has these players assembled. There seemed to be some trust issues in the backline and the handling continues to be poor. But the handling issues are fixable and chemistry comes with time.
Positives: This was a spirited effort by the Americans. They were down often and fought back each time the match looked like it might be out of hand. The new, more expansive style of play looked good and there continues to be depth developed in the backrow. The competition at win with Hume and Takudzwa “Z” Ngwenya can only make the team stronger and while Holder struggled, he does look like he could be the answer at #10, which has been a weak spot for this Team USA.
All of the above considered, there is reason for hope with this squad. The problems are fixable, but can they be fixed in the limited time the team has together? We’ll be watching… and hoping.
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