PHILADELPHIA, PA – Saturday’s USA Eagles vs AIG New Zealand Maori All Blacks game has generated significant momentum and belief in the USA Rugby program. American Rugby fans are smiling, while the rest of the world gives a confident nod. Both agree the hope is that USA rugby has begun turning the corner and can be a top tier 2 program and a stern opponent for tier 1s. With that said, the Rugby Rain Man Collective (RRMC) brings you its USA Rugby vs NZ Maori analysis of the American performance.
Front Row – It was exams day at the school of hard knocks for these boys. They weren’t completely dominated at scrum time but they were schooled on several occasions. They did manage to work through it and that was key. Unfortunately the line-out was inconsistent. Ball in hand and open play, they managed to make the hard yards and their tackles. Titi Lamositele and Nick Wallace made solid claims to be the first and second choice Looseheads.
Second Row – Graham Harriman stepped in due to a late injury to Scott LaValla. Harriman and Tai Tuisamoa were a fantastic duo. Expectations were uncertain, but as they did in the Americas Rugby Championship (ARC), they balanced the tight and loose work and moved bodies at rucks. like the front row, more line-out work is needed.
Back Row – Wow! what a performance. Cam Dolan put in one of the best on-debut performances ever and fully deserved his man-of-the-match award for the USA. Captain Todd Clever‘s play was immense and Pete Dahl also played well. Dahl had an issue with the 7-10 channel on set pieces but overall did a good job of being a pain at the breakdown.
Halfbacks – Toby L’Sigh L’Strange looked a lot better as he threatened the line didn’t unlock the defense but looked like he could at times. Unfortunately L’Strange went down due to injury early in the second half. Zach Pangelinan did a satisfactory job when he came on and now the question as to who is the USA back up 10 will have to be answered. It may be Pangelinan or Folau Niua, who came on in the centers midway through the second half. Mike Petri did not have a good game for a scrumhalf. His decision making and option taking were poor, not to mention his delivery from the base was slow. However, in terms of motivating his teammates and leadership and the intangibles that you want from a veteran, he was as good as ever.
Centers – Andrew Suniula had his best game for the US in years. He consistently broke the line and provided the US with go-forward ball. He ran with conviction and forced the defense to respond, allowing for more space for the outside backs. Seamus Kelly struggled at times but he looks like he is getting used to the speed of the international game. He performed well defensively though and that must be recognized. Niua used his dynamism to create a bit of space but seemed to force it at times, maybe a starting cap would help make the difference as the team wouldn’t be chasing the game.
Back 3 – Tim Maupin had a crucial knock-on on a well worked move and tried to go alone a bit too much but that happens with a player on debut. Luke Hume had his ups and downs but more ups and Adam Siddall was lights out. He easily played his best game in an Eagle jersey. His flexibility is going to be crucial as he will have to be shoehorned in somewhere into the backline in the next two weeks.
Scrums: As expected, the Maoris were better but it wasn’t outright dominance. The US was able to hold its own and occasionally got the upper hand.
Lineouts: You would expect more crisp and constant lineouts with a tight five that have played a whole tournament together. However, the Maori pressure seemed to rattle the unit– sloppiness crept in and it must be fixed.
Rucks: These were not clean enough. Credit to the Maori for being able to force turnovers and penalties. They seemed to create havoc and the USA must work on the support play and ball placement to help the attack. On defense, The USA was able to give the Maori some of their own medicine and slow down some real fast ball. Unfortunately, it just didn’t happen often enough.
Mauls: Rarely used and when it was, it was ineffective–this needs to be corrected. It does not seem like a tactic that fits the style the US wants to play. Defensively, the Maori used it occasionally and to good effect, but not dominantly. With Georgia up next, the USA has to improve it’s maul defense.
Defense: The cover defense looked very good. The Phil Bailey effect is noticeable. They only got caught out in the first try as the posting by the ruck was too far out. However, it seemed much improved. The amount of missed first-up tackles was disappointing. The players have to take most of the blame for that.
Attack: The handling looked a lot better. The players were starting to show structure. The frustration comes up from the poor timing–Keeping the ball tight when it needed to go wide and vice versa. Not to mention, a lot of forwards having to take the ball flat-footed. Different from previous performances were line-breaks and go forward ball and that allowed the team to see some.
Overall, this performance was more spirited and cohesive. The value of the ARC was on display as there were only 2 professionals on the USA side. Head Coach Mike Tolkin‘s move to take his first choice players to that tournament, which was questioned at the time, appears to be a stroke of genius. The USA must win its next two games for it to be proven as a masterstroke.
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And until the next time… stay low and keep pumping those legs.