PHILADELPHIA, PA – The USA Eagles’ Rugby World Cup roster is out with no big surprises. The only player who was part of Sunday’s match against Halrequins to miss out is Matt Trouville. Heading into the summer, Trouville was on the bubble but seemed ahead of Al McFarland. As the analysis below helps to indicate, McFarland simply played too well to be dropped.
Sunday’s match at PPL Park showed some things already known. Among the things we already knew but had a new chance to appreciate: The depth at 1, 3, and 10 is a potential problem for the Eagles. Folau Nuia is a player with all sorts of exciting talent, but he does not seem prepared to lead a team in attack. AJ MacGinty can play brilliantly, but he is still adjusting to top level rugby. Eric Fry and Titi Lamositele are considerably better than they were a year ago.
Here is the story from scrums and lineouts.
- Harlequins had 16 lineouts and won all of them, though the Eagles did force a turnover from one lineout maul.
- The Eagles had 9 lineouts and won 7.
- Harlequins had 4 attacking scrums. They won 3 penalties and conceded 1.
- The Eagles had 7 attacking scrums. They won all of them, including winning one penalty. One scrum was won under some mild pressure.
Given the amount of time the Eagles were assembled this summer, with the exception of Joe Taufete’e, there doesn’t seem to be much excuse for losing lineouts from poor communication, which sure seemed to be what happened to the first lineout that was lost, 26 minutes into the match.
The second half was a bit of a jumble, but one thing that stood out from the first half were the turnovers the Eagles won. Below is a close look at two of those turnovers.
The first was the result of a cracking Takudzwa Ngwenya tackle. Since returning to the Eagles’ picture last fall in Europe, Ngwenya has played some solid defense.
In this first picture, Ngwenya is outside of the frame, on the wing. Quins have received the kick off, 8-man Mat Luamanu has just carried the ball, and Nick Evans is receiving the ball from his scrum half, Karl Dickson. There are 4 backs outside of Evans (can’t tell exactly who is who) with another drifting in behind him.
The Eagles have an a defensive line in decent shape. Eric Fry marking Nick Evans is not ideal, but they look to have things covered, for the most part. Things change quickly, though. Evans brings the ball toward the line with a runner just off his left shoulder. Thretton Palamo and Greg Peterson are both held by the threat of that runner, as the next picture shows. Fry stays put.
In the picture above, Evans has passed the ball on to the man who has looped around into the line. That player has Winston Stanley plus two more players outside of him when he receives Evans’ pass. Below, you can see Fry and Peterson working to get around to help Seamus Kelly. However, Kelly doesn’t have much of a choice. He has to stay with the man with the ball. That means that when the pass goes to Stanley, it is a 3-on-1 for Quins.
However, Ngwenya is able to shut the move down by making a good decision and a great tackle. He reads that the pass is going to Stanley, and as soon as it does, he rushes in and cracks Stanley.
The decision, executed adequately, would have been enough to slow Quins down and likely lead to a clearing kick in the next phase. Ngwenya’s tackle was better than adequate and drives Stanley back and allows the Eagles to surge into the breakdown and win the turnover.
This is the kind of defensive decision-making the Eagles will need against Samoa.
Shortly thereafter, the Eagles won a penalty for Quins not releasing after MacGinty made a good tackle and Brett Thompson was immediately at the breakdown.
The next turnover came from several phases of good defense. Quins won their lineout and went to work. First up, MacGinty needs to tackle Luamanu and he does. Luamanu’s momentum carries him another meter or two forward, but the tackle is secure. That is an 8-man crash from a lineout at a 10. Quins, presumably, got exactly what they wanted, but MacGinty is able to make the tackle himself.
In the next phase, Ngwenya and Phil Thiel work together to shut down Marland Yarde.
At the next breakdown, Quins have still not made any real ground and Fry and Titi Lamositele make sure Quins don’t get quick ball.
At the next breakdown, Quins have gone backwards about 5 meters. This time it is Al McFarland’s turn to make sure the ball isn’t too quick. His tackle-position helps to ensure there in no offload or quick ruck.
Cameron Dolan makes the next tackle, with Quins again going backward. From that body position, Dolan can roll away easily, and it isn’t difficult for Quins to clear him out, but it is impossible for the ball carrier to make a pop pass from the deck.
At the next tackle, John Quill and Kelly work together. Kelly seems to be deliberately trying to tie the ball up. He doesn’t create the maul perhaps he was hoping for, but another phase without progress for Quins.
The next breakdown is where the turnover occurs. Kelly and McFarland make the tackle. Kelly goes low, then is able to roll to his feet quickly. McFarland is higher and making a nuissance of himself at the developing ruck. Two Quins players rush in to clear McFarland out, leaving no one behind to tend to the ball. Dolan and Kelly both react quickly. Kelly scoops the ball up and Dolan helps make sure that the Eagles start the next phase on the front foot.
To be fair to Quins, their scrum half was down injured during this sequence. That certainly assisted the defense. Still, that is 9 good phases of defense.
Video of the sequence, including the try that follows, is here.
The Eagles were also able to turn the ball over by successfully stalling a Quins’ maul from a lineout. On balance, the maul defense was poor, considering all 3 of the Quins’ tries started with strong mauls.
It was a mixed day for the Eagles, with lots that can and should be criticized. However, this kind of defensive work suggests improvement.
The Wallabies will be a stiffer test for the Eagles’ defense and help reveal how much has really improved.
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