RUGBY, N.D. – The collective “Phew!” from the USA Rugby locker room could be heard from Atlanta to the farthest reaches of the United States. Even in places like Rugby, which is indeed a real American town, rugby fans were exhaling, relieved that their USA Rugby Eagles will be chevroning to London’s 2015 Rugby World Cup.
Beleaguered, battered, maligned, stressed… Pick a term. They all applied to this flock. Under the gun from the whistle, things could not have gone worse for Coach Mike Tokin’s charges. It got ugly in a hurry; Uruguay knew they had to goad the bigger and more athletic Americans into petty nonsense, and they did so with aplomb. That veterans like Andrew Suniula would get sucked in was mind-numbing. Throwing a a wild [non-connecting] punch at the Uruguayan half-back, who was brilliant in his Oscar-worthy dive, was just one of a smorgasbord of ill-advised choices and/or penalties. And the most maligned of the group, tighthead Eric Fry and scrumhalf Mike Petri, weren’t winning rightful naysayers like Tom Clayman over with their stale, underwhelming play. Even the Atlanta weather was bad as Los Teros took advantage of the unhinged Americans, enticing two Yellow Cards in the first half, allowing the chic Joaquin Prada to pull a try from his fancy attache. More disconcerting, however, was that the visitors managed to slate 6 points when they themselves were playing a man down to forge a 3-13 lead at the half. It was a dark moment in USA Rugby history.
Then the teams limped off for the break…
Now, we’re not sure what Coach Tolkin said to the squad in the shed at said break, but whatever it was should be bottled and sold on the team’s website. Hell, we’ll peddle it here. And you can bet that Mike Petri and Eric Fry will be ordering doubles of it for the rest of their careers. For it was that duo – the two most questioned selections on the roster – that helped turn the tide for a team in dire straights, and a fan-base that had exhausted all expletives known, while cursing them through their computer feeds.
First it was Fry, who squeezed the reluctant oval to the line after relentless work from the Eagle pack. Then Petri, whose starting role has been questioned six ways to Sunday, picked up a penalty and racing 35 meters untouched against snoozing Uruguay defenders. The roars from each of those try-scorers are still echoing in Rugby.
Suddenly, the Team USA squad many have been nervously/angrily waiting for, finally arrived at the Kennesaw State University pitch. And that group was fun to watch. The final score? 32-13.
Are all things perfect? No. There are tons of questions to be asked and answered. The front row and numbers 9, 10, 12 and 13 are still open to criticism and conjecture. But for now, USA Rugby fans can relax… a bit.
Now if only they can bottle Tolkin’s pep talk.
UPDATE: Here is the video link to the match.