NEW YORK, NY – With the USA Rugby Autumn Internationals in the books, it’s time to look back on the tour as a whole, review all 4 games and see what they say about the USA Eagles ten months out from the 2015 Rugby World Cup. And this review is a collective effort from RWU staff writerand members of the Rugby Rain Men Collective, Mike Holzman, Nick Attewell and other rain men that would prefer to remain in the shadows.
Let’s begin by reviewing overall teams phases of play:
Attack (open play and set piece): The set-piece first phase attack was good off the line-out but not the scrums, as the scrums were poor. We will get to the scrums in a minute but for now let’s focus on the attack. In open play, it tended to go from side to side, due to lack of penetration. Thretton Palamo showed the importance of breaking the gainline against Fiji. When given space, the USA wings and fullbacks looked comfortable attacking. Inability to offload in contact was painfully obvious to all and hurt chances to break the gainline and or score.
Defense (open play and set piece): In open play, there were too many missed tackles. Alarmingly, these were missed first chance tackles. Those missed first chance tackles only created more havoc, as the defense was already scrambling. The All Blacks game highlighted this but it was just the headline grabber; the games against Tonga and Fiji and their up-tempo attack also shined a light on the problem. In the line-out there was not enough pressure, as they came forward to attack the offense. Off the scrum also struggled but that had to do with the platform provided the opposition.
Scrums (both US and opposition put-ins): It is getting down right sad. At some point, scrum coach Justin Fitzpatrick will have to answer questions about his selection choices and their inability to – at the very least – lockout on USA ball. If it isn’t addressed in a meaningful way this winter and spring, there’s no point in turning up at the World Cup. Everyone we play now knows coming in to target our scrum and that the penalties, turnovers and sin-binnings will come.
Line-outs (both US and opposition throw-ins): Probably the biggest bright spot, though some of the throws were a bit dodgy. But all in all it was a USA strong suit.
Rucks & Mauls (both offensive and defensive): The USA on attack often required one body more than they should have to clean out. A good clear-out these days can be done with 2 to 3 guys, dragging in a fourth slows things down and hurts the attack. On defense at the ruck, they managed to slow down a healthy amount of ball but couldn’t slow it down at crucial times. Attacking mauls looked good as a result of a strong lineouts. Defending the lineout was good – but not great – and that was more a result of the quality of opposition, as forward-dominated sides like Romania provided a sterner test than Fiji.
Kicking (out of hand, for touch and for goal): This was poor all around. Too many aimless box kicks, too many kicks right to the opposition back 3. More territory on touch kicks would be nice and a new goal kicker has to be found, if Adam Siddall will continue to be unavailable.
Now let’s look at the positions/roster:
Front Row: The hookers did okay, but the props were disappointing to say the least. Olive Kilifi has no business being a test prop, in this reporter’s opinion. Sorry, but it must be said. The tyros, Angus MacLellan and Benjamin Tarr barely got any minutes, so you have to wonder the purpose of bringing them on tour. The best two props for the USA going forward are Mate Moeakiola at tighthead and Eric Fry at loosehead.
Second Row: Greg Peterson was excellent. He handles the ball well for such a large man and was a good lineout target. Could form a formidable second row pairing with Hayden Smith, allowing Samu Manoa more freedom to operate at #8. John Cullen wasn’t bad but the blown overlap against Fiji will not fade from minds easily. Tai Tuisamoa is good in general play, but apparently not a strong option in the lineout. The front row gets looked at when the scrum struggles but the locks should also be looked at regarding technique and locking out, as this is a front five issue.
Back Row: Johnny Quill was a nuisance at the breakdown, in the best sort of way. Todd Clever is playing well, but he is being pressured by the likes of Quill. Matt Trouville was okay, but not all that dynamic, while Scott LaValla played well and showed he knows how to lead. The USA backrow stocks as always, looks good.
Halfbacks: Mike Petri was a divisive factor according to the Rugby Rain Man collective. A few want faster ball, as his delivery seemed awkward and lethargic. Too many box kicks – too many poor ones at that – were also brought up. Others agreed on the box kicks but thought he had a good tour. The flyhalves were okay, but not having a specialist 10 as back-up is proving to be a bad idea. If Adam Siddall isn’t available going forward, then another fly-half has to consindered. Shalom Suniula might get more credit for his play if not for THAT PASS!!!
Centers: Thretton Palamo had a great game against Fiji. Andrew Suniula had some great choke tackles. It must be noted that the USA attack did seem more impressive with Palamo in the games. One area of concern was that Seamus Kelly and A. Suniula didn’t do well in defense and apart from his try against Fiji, Kelly was solid but not much of a threat. Though it is unlikely, some time at 13 for Folau Niua or Ronnie McLean would be welcomed.
Back 3: Often maligned for his defensive frailties, the man known as “Z,” Taku Ngwenya, showed that he possess the game breaker speed and dynamism, that you cannot coach or do without. Tim Maupin may find himself the odd man out as he didn’t impress against Tonga and with Tim Stanfill showing he is a finisher things aren’t looking good for Maupin. In their one performance, both Chris Wyles and especially Blaine Scully showed they possessed all the class needed to maintain their places on the first team. Niua was good with ball in hand at fullback while finding his feet and McLean was solid after some earlier nerves for a guy who is normally a center playing fullback.
Mike Tolkin – Head Coach:
His selections and use of the bench indicate that coach Mike Tolkin has already decided who are his guys going into RWC2015. This would make one think that the squad is settled and that is a good thing. It appears that Tolkin seems to be taking a page out of South African Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer‘s book and creating undroppable players, though. It causes concern that some players are not being forced to stay sharp but coach Tolkin likes to go into battle with a group of guys that he is familiar with. Overall though, the tone of the team is better than 18 months ago, and that is good. They don’t seem like assured losers.
Nate Osborne– Assistant Coach/ Backs and Attack: Osbourne is still new but there was far too much side to side movement in open play without penetration so the ball carrying by the forwards and and who does it has to be sorted. The inability to execute offloads and overlaps is on both coach and players. There backs often stood to deep in attack according to some rain men.
Justin Fitzpatrick – Assistant Coach/ Forwards and Scrum: Open play hasn’t been bad but the scrum is atrocious. It is at best unreliable on USA ball and a liability on opponent ball. Something must be done, whether it is heavier locks or throwing some cash at a scrum specialist, it is an urgent matter.
Phil Bailey – Assistant Coach/Defense: Missed tackles are also on coach and player. There were some successful choke tackles but the biggest problem was that the players didn’t re-organize well after a tackle and line speed when trying to pressure the attack needs to be more consistent as well as faster. Chris O’Brien – Kicking Coach: More work needs to be done with the back-up kickers. Siddall and Wyles are 1 and 2 but with both not available, too many points were left on the board and missed kicks can change momentum.
The staff at USA Rugby work incredibly hard but this is an issue with administrative management in regards to the Troy Hall fiasco. The fact that his un-retirement was put on hold due to a lack of awareness of US Anti-doping laws is forgivable, since it appeared it caught everyone in the USA Rugby office off guard. However, the penny pinching of finally placing an SOS to Roland Suniula, who was shamefully never played after volunteering, was only topped by the call-up of Ronald Mclean. Mclean was on nobody’s radar and was probably discovered through the frantic calls of USA coaches to friends and colleagues in the UK and France for a USA eligible backline player. To Mclean and the search party’s credit he did perform well. However, the whole process didn’t jive with a program that is looking to be taken more seriously.
That’s it for now. Feel free to comment below, look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter@: RugbyWrapUp, Junoir Blaber, DJ Eberle, Nick Hall, James Harrington, Cody Kuxmann, Jaime Loyd, Karen Ritter , Jamie Wall, Jake Frechette and Declan Yeats, respectively.
And as always, stay low and keep pumping those legs.