SACRAMENTO, CA – The Eagles beat Canada 38-35 Saturday afternoon, and to win is good. It is fantastic. The game was NBA-style in its runs: USA was up 18-5, then down 35-18. Canada had beaten the USA seven times in a row, dating back to 2009, so the win gives a sense that this really still is a rivalry with the outcome of any given game unknown.
Canada, though, did have a chance at the end to at least tie. The Americans from south of the border committed a penalty at the breakdown inside their own 22. Scott LaValla was yellow carded for the offense. Canada, through James Pritchard, had a clear chance to make the kick and end with a tie. Over the television broadcast, one of the Canadian players could clearly be heard asking for a scrum. That would have made a bit of sense. The Eagles were short a forward. Chris Wyles, whose experience allows him to help lead the defense, was off the field. Luke Hume, who came onto the wing when Wyles went off, is a player whose strength is in attack. Canada must have also seen how Japan scrummed so well against the Eagles at the end of last week’s game. The scrum option would have given the forwards the chance to pressure in the scrum and the backs to find a hole if that didn’t work.
Instead, the penalty was taken quickly and rather than score, the ball was turned over after several phases. If I were a Canadian fan, I’d be pissed.
The Eagles opened the game with a passage of play during which they didn’t allow Canada more than a sniff at the ball. They were organized and the forwards were able to secure the ball on attack and provide Mike Petri with good protection at the ruck. Testing high balls were handled securely and kick chase was good.
As the game progressed, the Eagles looked to progress from crashing the ball up in pods to shifting the ball one pass wider–forward to forward as the defense collapsed on the first runner. In theory the US forwards are definitely skilled enough to execute this. In practice, two passes meant for Danny Barrett weren’t handled and led to pressure from Canada. The first Harry Jones try came from a 22 drop out that was the consequence of an Olive Kilifi pass not going safely into Barrett’s hands. The second Jones try came from a pass from Phil Thiel to Danny Barrett. Once Jones got the ball, he was too fast to be caught.
There was evidence of a game plan and players who knew what the game plan was. That is good, even if mistakes were made.
The try for Ciaran Hearn was the result on non-thinking. He was tackled but not held, and there were no Eagles moving toward the tackle or would-be breakdown, so he simply got up and ran away. The try to Aaron Carpenter was notable mostly because Samu Manoa had crunched him moments before. Carpenter, though, had enough to get back up and then get the better of Danny Barrett who tried to tackle him or hold him up in the try zone.
Barrett was all over the place. He showed pace and commitment and hustle. He made some good hits, some big runs, and made some important mistakes.
Samu Manoa continued where he left off last week–trying to be the powerhouse the Eagles need. He again seemed to be looking to destroy through big hits with and without the ball.
Brett Thompson hardly got to touch the ball, but he did end up with a try thanks in large part to a great pass from Mike Petri. (That’s right. I just wrote that Petri made a great pass.) In fact, Blaine Scully’s second try was also the result of a pretty darn good Petri pass.
And it really is the Blaine Scully and Chris Wyles show for the Eagles right now. Part One of Saturday night’s episode brought to you by a defense-bustin’ run by captain Todd Clever. Scully has scored five tries in two games.
Clever had another good game with a couple good, long runs featuring several fends. Nick Wallace also continues to look good in the loose and was able to make a half break and get his hands free to make a pass to Clever. Seeing that skill from the front row suggests the Eagles are ready to remain a dynamic team in attack.
Shalom Suniula had a pretty good game. He was visible in defense and only made one kick that led to head scratching.
The lineout was not consistent. Phil Thiel worked himself into an almost-automatic selection at hooker in part because of the lineout throwing. If that isn’t consistent, his place needs to be in question. This is especially true if his replacement, Tom Coolican, is doing things like charging down kicks that lead to Brett Thompson tries.
Here is a breakdown of what happened at scrum time. I think I got them all in here.
Scrum #1: Penalty against Canada for collapsing.
Scrum #2: Free kick to Canada for a scrum half feed.
Scrum #3: Free kick to US for an early Canadian push.
Scrum #4: Clean ball to the 8 on the US put in. Barrett tore off down the field.
Scrum #5: 5 meter attacking scrum for Canada. The US is able to pressure.
Scrum #6: Penalty against US.
Scrum: #7: Canada wins clean ball.
Scrum #8: Canada scrum is turned; scrum half runs and then kicks. US ready to counter.
Scrum #9: Canada scrum; ball pops out at the back. Scrum half kicks poorly.
Scrum #10 and #11: Clean ball for Canada.
Compared to the last two weeks, this scrum breakdown is a marked improvement. Do you see the missing yellow cards?
In fact, the Eagles looked better in lots of areas. This might mean that Mike Tolkin and his staff are putting the players through useful training sessions and doing a good job. If that is true, it seems clear that the next step for the coaching staff is to find a way for the players to be ready to play together in fewer than three weeks.
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.