Please see further analysis from our Rugby Rain Men by clicking here.
TORONTO, CANADA – These are tough days for USA Rugby’s Men’s 15s program. After standing tall yet falling short vs a young but solid Ireland team on June 8th in Houston, their subsequent performances have been plagued by moments of inconsistency, lapses in focus, poor decision-making and an absence of urgency. Indeed, the Eagles and their new Head Coach, Mike Tolkin, have been under fire from angry and frustrated fans, especially after a downright stinker in South Carolina last Saturday vs Canada.
Cut to yesterday’s match at Toronto’s BMO Stadium and all indications were that Team USA would have an easier time handling a charging herd of Canadian moose in mating season, than outscoring the home team by the needed 19 points in this Rugby World Cup Qualifier. Moreover, after Canada admittedly didn’t play well in Charleston last week, it appeared that the USA squad could very well be run out of the town, province and country by the final horn. Had that been the case, you can bet there would be an even more fervent calling for an organizational guillotining.
BUT… The result was not the blowout victory of which one side expected and one side hoped. Instead, what we witnessed was a defensive battle, marked by both squads turning the ball over at critical times and top-notch defensive stands by the Canadians in the first 20 minutes that kept the fired up/desperate Americans from scoring at least two tries… Did Chris Biller, the USA hooker touch the ball down in the try zone? He and his teammates certainly thought so. But with Irish Referee John Paul Doyle deferred to the TMO for a ruling. Canadian prayers were answered and the try was not awarded.
Takudzwa Ngwenya did find room a tad later, however, and the Red, White & Blue drew first blood. But Chris Wyles missed the conversion and the Canadians roared back, taking an 8-5 lead. Just when it seemed the Red & White were poised to pour it on, the usually automatic Aussie transplant, James Pritchard, missed a penalty kick. Wyles then slotted a game-tying kick at the half-time horn and it was 8-8 going into the changing shed.
The 2nd half was either an exercise in offensive futility or defensive dominance, depending on your perspective. We can argue both sides of this to draw in Kangaroo Kourt. But an unconverted Jason Marshall try and a another Wyles kick would round out the scoring in a 13-11 Canada win.
Winning coach Kieran Crowley had this to say:
“The guys have shown they can win these type of games, if you look back at the last seven games they have been close, and they don’t know it yet but we seem to be able to grind it out. We have had a lot of close calls and one day they will realize what they can do.”
Crowley would have had a different quote had the visitors had not elected for Wyles to go for goal with time winding down on a penalty. Instead of kicking the ball for touch deep in the Canadian end and taking their chances on a lineout and possible game-winning drop-kick, the Eagles put the game on the shoulders – or foot – of an inconsistent Wyles. The kick was considerably off the mark and Canada won the final scrum and kicked the ball out and themselves into the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Congrats to RWU friends, Captain Aaron Carpenter and lock-turned-loosie, Jebb Sinclair:
Team USA’s Coach Tolkin may have saved his job with the team’s improvement from last week if USA Rugby CEO Nigel Melville’s Tweet is any indication:
Eagles very unlucky, def an improved performance, whole squad worked hard and something to build on
— Nigel Melville (@NigelMelville) August 24, 2013
With that, what are your thoughts on Team USA going forward?