USA Eagles vs. Ireland: What Can Be Fixed

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Scrum time for Ireland against the Eagles at Red Bull Arena

HARRISON, NEW JERSEY — Before Ireland waltzed passed the United States in Saturday’s test match at Red Bull Arena I wrote that the Eagles had a great opportunity to beat a Tier 1 side. The on-paper potential of the players head coach John Mitchell had selected in his starting 23-man roster had me believing, or at the least looking forward to a close contest. Even after managing to sit through the 19-55 defeat, I refuse to say that the United States weren’t capable of pulling off the upset.

Despite my pre-match optimism, the Eagles on-field performance was far from the positive potential outlook I put forth in previewing Saturday’s contest. In all honesty, I wasn’t so much disappointed with the United States losing considering the sheer caliber of talent Ireland put on display. What did bother me was the Eagles’ lack of precision in aspects of the match where I’ve seen them excel in the past.

There were three main areas of the match that contributed to Saturday’s trouncing that are fixable, three things that will prove important come the test against Georgia and the upcoming World Cup qualifying series against Canada.

Tackling

Outside of the first 15 minutes of the match, the United States’ tackling, especially on the wings, was spotty at best. Yes, players like Ireland’s Garry Ringrose and Keith Earls were shifty and in top form, but the Eagles let players duck under attempted tackles or wriggle out of tacklers’ arms not once, but several times. I know the Eagles can put in good tackles; they’ve shown that acuity since the Pacific Nations Cup days and against Russia, Italy, and ARC opponents in recent years. However, it was hard to watch at times on Saturday because tackles were being missed when they simply shouldn’t have been. At least three of Ireland’s tries could have been prevented had a tackle been made. The American defense was shaky as it slid towards the wing, opening gaps between the defenders for the Irish to run through. In the cases that Ireland did get through, the USA’s last defender’s efforts were often shrugged aside. This is definitely an area the USA can improve on and they will have to do so if they want to compete with better sides.

9-10 Partnership & Dynamism

Nate Augspurger and AJ MacGinty are integral characters when it comes to the USA’s attacking structure and ability. Both have helped head coach John Mitchell revamp the Eagles attack with quick recycling, high-efficiency phase play that has given the Americans more attacking opportunities than the older forward-centric attacking play we saw with Mike Tolkin. Saturday’s game, however, was a blend of grays when it came to ball-in-hand creativity: uniform and boring. With a young team on the other side of the ball the USA failed to take advantage of the width of the field and stretch the Irish defense.

Getting the ball wide quickly would have opened up spaces for forwards like Nick Civetta and Nate Brakeley (or any other forwards for that matter) to exploit around the edges of the breakdown and spaces in the midfield for the backs to run through. Augspurger was not impressive and didn’t add much life to the attack. He was slow to the breakdown for much of the first half and wasn’t recycling the ball quickly at all when he was timely, allowing the Irish defense to regain their shape. MacGinty wasn’t able to do much other than move the ball on to Marcel Bosche at inside-center because he was either too close to the breakdown to have time to pass or was closed down by at least two defenders when he was in perfect position because the defense was already set. When the backs did get the ball the call was often just playing through the hands without much more creativity than dummy runners. The lack of pace and subsequent creativity in the attack shut down the opportunities the Eagles had in the Irish half that could have been turned into points.

Taking the Ball into Contact

The Crusaders, Highlanders, and Hurricanes of Super Rugby make avoiding contact look easy. That being said, the ability for teams to effectively move the ball on and avoid contact is a skill that needs to be properly harnessed before implementation. Whether it’s an offload off the floor, a quick pass in the middle of a tackle, a short inside pass directly before contact, or a last-second chip kick attempt, the ball handler and receiver must both be ready to improvise in the moment and be clinical with the execution of both the pass/kick and the reception. During Saturday’s match, there were several times that the Eagles tried to force continuity by making a last ditch effort at an offload, mostly to no avail.

In the first half Marcel Bosche tried to offload during contact 30 m from Ireland’s try line, but the offload was well behind the oncoming runner and the USA turned the ball over. At the end of the first half a small chip kick by Ben Cima was made despite a lack of support from his teammates for a kick chase. The kick sailed more than anticipated, landing in Irish hands. A few minutes into the second half, a pop pass off the floor from Tony Lamborn to David Tameilau ended a promising attacking opportunity when United States desperately needed a try. Although these are just three examples, there are several other instances where the Eagles should have taken the ball into contact rather than look for the offload. Honestly, there is nothing wrong with taking the ball into a tackle in order to preserve possession, especially in the attacking third. When the Eagles had the ball in hand and strung a few phases together they slowly but surly moved the ball down field into scoring territory. Their focus has to be more on maintaining possession than finding the offload.


I don’t doubt that the Eagles can bounce back against Georgia. Just like I said before the Ireland match, the USA definitely has the tools and skill to pull off an impressive victory. This time it just depends on whether or not the Eagles can accurately manage the basics (like tackling and ballhandling) while trying to execute more complicated skills like attacking efficiency and pace.

Hopefully we will see the United States at their full potential soon enough.


That’s all for now, please feel free to comment below, look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter@: @RugbyWrapUp,  @Ronan Nelson, @Junoir Blaber, @Matt_McCarthy00, @MichaelHalsey24, @JWB_RWU, @Luke Bienstock, @MeetTheMatts, @Brian C Cole and @Declan Yeats.

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Irish-American Ronan Nelson is from California, is a new UCLA Bruin and is a rugby lifer. Plus he's got two passports. But that's just scratching the surface. He's got more courage and resolve in his thumbnail than most of us combined. Le Wolf of Wheelchairs is a man amongst men. Check him out in this video: https://www.facebook.com/PrayForRonanNelson/videos/vb.377373885627475/995548307143360/?type=2&theater and follow him on Twitter: @ronan_nelson
  • 1stXV

    Didn’t realize you were sponsored by Pravda. Well thought out comments purged because they don’t toe the party line. Disgraceful.

    • Apologies for not engaging you in a further dialougue but we’re not exactly sure what you’re saying here… No clue, in fact. We’re not that bright, as you have readily guessed! But we’re always up for new sponsors! 😉

      • 1stXV

        I spent a good 20 minutes trying to put through some analysis on what can only be described as a pathetic performance by the Eagles v Ireland. Up for 5 minutes and then poof. Really can’t be bothered to revisit but the problems the US faces are far deeper than a lack of cohesion, to put it mildly.

        Just finished watching the NZ U20 team defeat a valiant French side 36-26 after being up 29-0 at the half. Both these teams would beat the Mens Eagles by 20, not even close.

        Until the US rugby community comes to grip with how far behind the rest of the world we are, we are just shovelling sh@t against the tide.

        • Aaron

          It’s pretty simple. Post RWC Ground Zero, the whole program was in disarray. We’ve made a tremendous amount of progress since then. But so has Ireland, I mean we’re looking at the depth of a Union that beat the All Blacks. We were very well scouted. Mitchell leaving could be good, or we could do what we did the last time and go cheap with a decent club coach that has no business coaching the national side.

          • 1stXV

            The national coach should not be coaching basic rugby skills to those in his domian. Mitchell knows this and he knows how deep the divide is. This guy is no mug, he knows more about rugby than all of us put together. He’s getting out because he HAS to know that this is a 20 year project. He just had to watch David Tameilau run with the ball tucked up under his left arm, not out in front in BOTH hands so he could readily offload to his trail runners, which he had on both sides. This should have been drilled into this guy’s head as a 10 year old!!!

          • Aaron

            Funny…but I’ve seen plenty of that in Super and Aviva this year. That’s also the reason for assistants, to, you know, coach them up.

          • Missing comment found and posted below!

          • 1stXV

            My point is that the US has nowhere near the eco-system that is necessary to deliver a 20 year old young man to a national coach and his assistants so that they can teach him the professional micro-skills required to complete at an International level. Think of how prepared a 3 year starter from Alabama is for the NFL, about to become a millionaire 1st round draft pick. How much football does he already have under his belt? How many years of top level coaching has he already received?

            The rest of the rugby world has been fully professional since 1995 and are refining their systems every day. We are talking Grand Canyon here people.

          • Lord Rugby

            Can’t snap your fingers and produce American players that have played as kids. That is only happening now mate. But tanking the program is not a serious response or option. The kids watching the Ireland win now think they can make that team. That’s what it takes.

          • 1stXV

            Was only being facetious about tanking the program and it was more in response to those that think we are a coach away from competing internationally. Spending good $ on a dude that can only stick his finger in the dyke is not wise. What did we just pay Mitch? 250k per year 2 years, total of 500k. Could have had a guy in there for total of 200k and maybe we lose to Ireland by 50 points instead of 40. Just saved us 300k. Take that $ and select 10 of our very best 13 year old junior rugby players and enroll them at Otago Boys High School in Dunedin at 30k per year for a full year of boarding school and the associated rugby immersion. A far better investment. Got some more money? Pick more kids and send them to Southland Boys High, Palmerston North Boys High, Hamilton Boys High, Christchurch Boys High – all boarding schools of the highest reputation that will provide the 3 R’s on top of a Harvard quality rugby education. These kids come back and spread the gospel. Do it for 5 or 10 years running and you have yourself a semblance of a program.

            Investing $ in our current crop of national players is a waste of $ we don’t have. They work hard but they aren’t good enough and never will be good enough. That is the stone cold reality of USA rugby today.

          • NotTinyTime

            There are bigger issues keeping the team from succeeding and most of it is about pocketed money and back room deals with Melville and the board.

          • TCD

            In interesting idea, but why would it have to be NZ private school? Couldn’t we be working out rugby exchanges across the world, as much in places like Argentina and France as NZ? That would still be a step up, and could probably run a lot more kids through that system.

          • 1stXV

            Doesn’t have to be NZ, but why not go with the best? Extra benefits of no language barrier and a 25% discount on the exchange rate. Just had a look at the Christchurch Boys website and it’s 32k for International students, so only 25k US. That includes everything, tuition, room, board, laundry, insurance, etc.

            All detailed on their website, and there are a dozen more schools just as good as this one. I promise you that there are at least 20 Japanese kids attending schools just like this right now in NZ – I don’t know of a single American.

            http://cbhs.school.nz/international-students

            Fees 2018

            Total approximate cost: NZD$30,000-32,000/Year
            Tuition: NZD$15,500/Year incl.GST
            Admin: NZD$345/Year incl.GST
            Homestay: NZD$260/week
            This includes all meals and laundry
            Homestay Placement Fee: NZD$350/Year incl.GST
            Insurance: NZD$500/Year Southern Cross International Student Insurance
            Activity: NZD$1000/Year
            This is for the student’s curricular and extra curricula activities including course costs, stationery, field trips, and uniform etc. Any balance will be refunded in full.
            Guardian: NZD$3000/Year (First Language Support if requested)

            CBHS Rugby Programme at a glance
            530 Players
            23 teams from Under 13 – Under 19
            44 coaches, 23 managers, 2 physio’s, 1 weights instructor, 2 strength and conditioning coaches
            4 rugby fields
            6 hectares of field space, 2 gymnasiums, 1 all weather training facility
            International Rugby Programme
            Rugby season commences 1st April to 23 August but the International Rugby Programme runs the whole school year between 1st February and 12th December.
            Currently limited to 25 players.
            Age 13 -19 years old.
            If over 19 years of age we can place you with High School Old Boys’ (our parent club.)
            Rugby plus English only options available.
            Custom Group Training Camps available on request.

          • 1stXV

            KOSEI ONO
            OLD BOY AND CURRENT JAPAN
            NATIONAL TEAM PLAYER
            Kosei Ono was a student at CBHS for five
            years. He played for the 1st XV and was a
            solid attacker and defender playing first and
            second five-eighth. Kosei is now a member
            of the Japanese Rugby Team that beat
            South Africa in the 2015 Rugby World Cup
            and achieved the best result of any
            Japanese national side in history.

          • Aaron

            Considering the majority of NFL football players start playing in High School. Yes, if the average age was 16 and the boys had been playing for 8 years. It’s not about Rugby IQ as much as it is about bodies. The T1 Athletes in the US do not play Rugby, the majority if T2 Athletes in the US do not play Rugby. Our national men’s sides are full of T2 and T3 American Athletes.

            A great coach will keep us competitive, a great coach that wants to build the program will aid in coaching and development of the American Style that USA Rugby is talking about starting.

            But the key is not to get kids playing at 6, that would be nice. The key is to get the kids playing in middle school, so 11-13. Because if we have school teams starting in the 6th grade things will be much different.

          • oldhooker2

            Name them.

          • Quick answer, unfortunately, is that too few of the Eagle pool players have been playing since they were kids.

        • We found it in the bottom of the spam folder. Posted now!

    • 3rd Half Harry

      You should apologize to these guys for jumping to your conclusion, you wanker! Must be a Kiwi.

  • The scrums were where it all went sour from the get-go. Add all that you pointed out to that and there was the fuel to the fire. They did not play cohesively.

    • Aaron

      Well…Scrummaging became even when it became 1. Taufete’e 2. Hilterbrand 3. Ryan. We need another tighthead though because Taufete’e is a world class hooker and should be starting there.

      • It could be that some lineup choices were made for the bigger picture – like the two matches vs Canada. But we don’t know that. Just speculation.

  • We apologize for this going into the spam folder unknowingly and certainly wouldn’t flag or delete it. It’s simply a passionate assessment and welcome.

  • Aaron

    Canada is in a bad way. We are not.

    • Royal Mounted Prop

      Canada is restarting. USAR is stagnant.

      • Aaron

        I have to say, the national team is brutal. But as far as the roots are concerned. Your U20s outclassed us so much today on the pitch. Bright future.

  • 1stXV

    Anybody just watch the USA U20’s get dismantled by Canada just now 46-12? An excellent LIVE streaming broadcast & commentary put on by RugbyCanada – far better than anything put on by the hapless USARugby / Rugbychannel.tv.

    I saw a bunch of big, strong and fast US athletes that probably have played a bunch of great football in their time. Pity that this was an INTERNATIONAL rugby match.
    The U18’s lost to the rugby powerhouses of Spain & Portugal over in Europe last month, a tour that the kids had to pay their over way to.

    The last USA age grade side with any merit won the U20 Trophy in 2012 (played at home in Utah) and got promoted to the U20 Championship in 2013 in France. Some of these same players are now integral to the Men’s Eagles program today, as you would expect as they are all about 23-25 now (Titi Lamositele, Hanco Germishuys, Peter Malcolm, Ben Pinkelman, Ben Cima, Ben Tarr, Seth Halliman). They earned the right to play the U20 sides of South Africa, France and England – all professional rugby playing nations that aren’t waiting around for the US to get it’s sh@t together. Anybody care to guess the cumulative scoreline differential?

    50 points? 100? 150? 200? 250?

    If you guessed 251 you would be exactly right – 97-0 to SA; 45-3 to France; 109-0 to England.

    Way to go USA Rugby, you are right on track to see us get relegated straight out of the RWC2023 tournament. RWC3035 anybody?

    Another spot quiz. Lets take all 4 major professional team sports played in America:
    baseball, basketball, football, hockey. What do you reckon the average age was when they first started playing the sport they eventually turned PRO in? 6,7,8? I don’t have the data but I would have to guess one in that range. Certainly by the age of 12 they were identified by their parents and respective sporting bodies as potential prodigies and provided the necessary support, coaching and competition in order to eventually turn pro. Without question by the time they were 15 everybody that saw them play could see they were on their way to the big leagues.

    Why do Americans expect that PROFESSIONAL rugby is any different?

    To think that you can take a 15 year old semi-stud athlete (more than likely they just are not good enough at the other aforementioned sports) and teach him how to pass a rugby ball backwards and then 5 or 10 years later expect this young man to compete against other rugby PROFESSIONALS is nothing less than sports malpractice.

    Apologies for all the evangelizing, but I am angry as hell at what I have just seen the last few days.

    • Aaron

      I watched it. It was bad. Your hate for the football player who wants to play Rugby is very poor. If anything the MJAA showed us a significant problem with our age grade programs. And if you don’t think 10 years of playing a sport gets you high IQ it’s obvious you’ve never opened a football playbook. But here’s something you should know, the majority of the MJAAs have played Rugby for a very long time. They did not pick it up in college.

      • 1stXV

        I don’t hate the football player, I just know they make crappy rugby players and that is evidenced every time a USA rugby team takes the field. Basketballers understand time and space far better. They “know” where their mate is going to be before he gets there so they can deliver the ball to that exact space. This skill is not developed by reading a playbook, it’s developed on the playgrounds over thousands and thousands of hours of fast paced competition.

        I know all about the JAA’s, my son has attended their camps. 95% of them play football first and rugby second. They play football here in NZ as well but every single NZ footballer plays Union or League first and football second or third. There is not a Kiwi alive that would expect their age grade son to compete against an age grade US football player. It would be an absurd notion. They certainly would NEVER expect a NZ mens national football team to even take the field against a US professional football team. It would be suicide because the infrastructure is not in place to develop them as professional footballers.

        Yet there are those in the US that are convinced that they can just “coach up” a bunch of crossover ex-footballers to be professional rugby players. MADNESS.

        • Aaron

          Well. If you don’t want to coach up cross-overs, we will be T2 forever. Grow the game at all levels.

          • 1stXV

            I’m totally with you Aaron, we have to coach what we’ve got and right now that is crossovers. Keep the Eagles chugging along but everybody really needs to tone down on the “when will we get the T1 scalp” madness. Attack the early age grades with every resource you’ve got – get the kids (boy & girls) playing flag rugby as early as possible. De-emphasize footballers and concentrate on the basketball courts and hockey rinks – they will make much better rugby players.

          • TCD

            Ditto on that. Football players don’t have the sense of what happens after the first play. Players in other sports already think about the chain of actions that need to occur to score.

  • 1stXV

    One last tidbit that exemplifies the gulf that USA rugby is facing. I have never attended a rugby match at Xavier or Gonzaga or Jesuit or St. Ignatius but something tells me that they might fall a wee bit short of this in the passion department. New Plymouth Boys has fallen down the rankings quite a bit of late but without doubt they possess the greatest high school rugby ground anywhere on planet Earth:

    https://youtu.be/NDaYWw68TXo

    • The Honorable Slim Shady

      Unbelievable !!!
      Wow !!!

  • 1stXV

    This team of U20 young men would destroy our current USA MENS Eagles, that is the embarrassing state that USA Rugby finds itself in.

    http://www.worldrugby.org/video/259903

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