CARSON, CA – The pieces are there. The talent is there. But getting it all to mesh under the international microscope in very little time is Coach Mike Tolkin’s tall task. So far, Team USA has shown only glimpses of what they can be. In last night’s 12-18 loss to the Tonga Sea Eagles, those glimpses were too brief, just eye-blinks here and there; a Toby L’Strange scamper here… a Takudzwa Ngwenya burst there… a stirring scrum set.
But there was no continuity. In fact, there was downright sloppy play at the most inopportune times. And while Tonga’s injured/ineligible players were much spoken of, there is no denying that veteran Mike MacDonald’s absence is hurting Team USA. That’s no slighting of Shawn Pittman, Eric Fry or Nick Wallace; Big Mac is the most-capped Eagle ever for a reason. He is one of those players you don’t miss until he’s not there. He’s an engine room guy. The blue-collar grunt that does much of the unsung stuff. And as that most-capped Eagle. He can also rumble with the ball a bit from the prop position, which often gets the Eagles on their collective front foot – something they couldn’t do last night.
The lineouts and set pieces were off, like a pitcher struggling with his control in baseball with a different catcher behind the plate. Over time, those things can be ironed out. The problem is, though, there is no time. Team USA needs to win now.
How do they do that? We’ll leave the heavy lifting on that one to Mike Tolkin. But an obvious fix, one that the coaching staff will be drumming into their skulls all week, is eliminating the unforced errors and poor decisions with the ball. We mentioned Taku “Z” Ngwenya and Toby L’Strange above. Alex Goff of RugbyMag.com wrote exactly what we were thinking in that “Z” had a nice run but then threw the ball away trying to get it to a long and large target in Scott LaValla… Also, Goff was correct in saying that L’Strange unwisely kicked a grubber away in the red zone. Little things like that can mean the difference between winning and losing.
Again, we’re not pointing out anything that coach and team aren’t already aware of… Here’s an honest post-game interview with Coach Tolkin by Dallen Stanford. Dallen also speaks with Kelly and LaValla:
Those are honest assessments of the facts. And as John Adam’s said, “Facts are stubborn things.” Stubborn Fact of the Day for this match comes from IRB.com, which says it is now 256 minutes since Takudzwa Ngwenya has scored. That has to change.
Fiji is next for Team USA in Japan on the 19th. That’s a long flight, little recovery time and hard battle ahead. But Captain Todd Clever lives and plays in Japan… maybe that will give the team an edge. Time will tell.
To see more of the Eagles on camera, click this… And feel free to comment below.
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*According to Wikipedia.