SACRAMENTO, CA – As we did last week, before we begin to look at the match-up against our old rival Canada, we need to look back at the game with Japan and what went wrong. The original title I submitted for this article, was “Tough to Win Walking Backwards.” It encompassed the game the same way the Eagles v Japan game ended; fittingly with a mistake by the scrum-half and a failed scrum.
The Eagles had an attacking lineout about seven meters from the Japan try line. The lineout was won cleanly, the ball went to ground, Mike Petri went to dig it out and knocked it on. From there, Japan won a penalty from the ensuing scrum. Game over. Final score: 37-29 to Japan.
The Brave Blossoms have certainly showed the capacity to be a second-half team. Their comeback against Canada was dramatic and the way they crushed the Eagles in the second half in the scrum was impressive.
The first two scrums in the second half resulted in Japan tries. In both cases, the Japanese pack was moving forward and Ryu Koliniashi Holani, the 8man, easily scooped the ball and crossed the try line both times. Those two tries put the Eagles in a big hole.
At halftime of the Scotland game, Dan Lyle called on the US pros to play like pros, and they did against Japan. Chris Wyles was a stud. Samu Manoa patrolled the field looking like he wanted to hurt people. Blaine Scully scored a hat trick. Todd Clever and Scott Lavalla had solid games. Those are guys the Eagles need to turn up, and they did.
The tries the Eagles scored were simply fantastic. Cam Dolan’s intercept try was a mistake–the USA lost the lineout–that error was wiped out by being awake and ready to pounce. Scully’s first try came after good Eagles pressure which led to a lucky bounce of the ball into Wyles’ hands. Wyles then went Hulk-mode, shoved off two defenders, and then made the offload to Scully. Defensive pressure leads to turnover leads to try. Scully’s second try was similar, except from further out. The spark after the turnover was Danny Barrett who showed a good burst and then made a good pass to Scully. Pressure, turnover, try.
Scully’s third try was from a set piece–the first phase from an attacking lineout. Shalom Suniula got the return pass from Seamus Kelly, linked up with Folau Niua who put the ball into Wyles’ hands. Wyles again provided the spark, made the incisive run, and then made a gorgeous no-look pass to Scully.
The American tries showed the Eagles capable of real dynamic play. The tries they conceded were different, like those given up while the scrum marches backwards.
Japan’s first try was the result of a good lineout drive and a dummy by Fumiaki Tanaka that completely baffled Petri.
The Eagles again, as against Scotland, failed to totally reorganize after a kick-chase. They are able to make the initial stop, but are vulnerable on the next phase or three. The second Japanese try was scored in this way. It is good to see the Eagles have an organized defensive line that makes the first tackle, but the next steps in defensive strategy need to be addressed as the team improves.
The front rowers the Eagles have on the squad are athletes. Nick Wallace, Eric Fry, Titi Lamositele, Olive Kilifi, Phil Thiel, and Tom Coolican all can get around the field and make good plays in the loose. That is proving not to be enough for the Eagles to win, though. The Eagles coaching staff seems happy enough with the guys in the squad. Scrum half is the other position that seems stagnant. Petri has made some better box kicks, but his play is not helping the Eagles win. There is, however, no other dedicated 9 on the squad.
If the Eagles are as dynamic against Canada as they were against Japan, they have to have a chance. Looking past that game to the AIG New Zealand All Blacks and whatever is beyond, it seems clear that the Eagles have a strong core. What isn’t clear, no matter what happens against Canada, is how the Eagles plan to improve in the areas of weakness.
That’s it for now. Feel free to comment below, please look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter@:RugbyWrapUp, Junoir Blaber, Nick Hall, James Harrington, Jamie Wall, Jaime Loyd, DJ Eberle, Cody Kuxmann, Karen Ritter, Jake Frechette and Declan Yeats, respectively.