PHILADELPHIA, PA –There seems little doubt that Harlequins got what they came for on their trip to America and the match against the USA Eagles at PPL Park. The Eagles will find positives from the 24-19 defeat, but the loss also highlighted some old problems.
After the match, USA Coach Mike Tolkin looked at the defensive challenge the Quins presented in a positive light: “This one was a good one for us.”
The Eagles got off to a strong start and looked good on attack in the first half.
Right from the opening kick, Quins looked to attack from deep in their own territory. The USA were ready and forced a turnover. The Eagles’ first trip into the attacking 22 resulted in an AJ MacGinty penalty. 3-0.
Following shortly thereafter, MacGinty’s first kick from hand, and the chase, earned the Eagles a penalty, again in Quins’ half. Blaine Scully, captaining the Eagles for the first time in this non-capped “friendly,” made another conservative decision and again gave MacGinty the chance for the penalty goal. 6-0 after 5 minutes.
MacGinty’s kicks from hand were effective and kept Quins under pressure, and he made several strong runs throughout the match. MacGinty was singled out by Tolkin and Harlequins’ captain Nick Evans. “We gave him [MacGinty] a lot of space and he took it. I thought he was brilliant”
When Quins did get into the 22, there was some good initial defense from the USA. When the Eagles were awarded the scrum, the exit was handled cleanly and with precision. The scrum was won cleanly, Thretton Palamo ran a crash, and then there was a good clearance from MacGinty.
All was not golden for MacGinty as he did miss his next chance from the tee.
Still, the early pressure from the Eagles continued with good work at the breakdown which led to a turnover and then a break by MacGinty. This build up ended with the match’s first try for Palamo.
The early pressure and points for the Eagles did not rattle Quins, though, and when they won a penalty in the Eagles’ half, they opted to kick to touch. From the lineout 16 meters out, the Quins set up a good maul and then scrum half Karl Dickson darted over for a try. USA 11-7 Quins.
The USA exerted more pressure with another MacGinty break and a strong run by Brett Thompson. On the next phase, Mike Petri went for a dart of his own – in part because his other options were limited – but the support was too slow to arrive. The result was a turnover inside the 22.
It was Quins who scored next from a driving maul. Luke Wallace was perched comfortably at the back of the maul and scored the try, which Evans converted.
MacGinty had another chance to show both his inexperience and class. He made a shocking pass to Scully, but the Eagles were able to keep possession and with MacGinty’s next touch of the ball he made a good kick that resulted in a turnover to the USA and another trip inside the Quins’ 22. This trip ended with a knock-on on the try line.
Looking at the positives for the Eagles, it was another example of MacGinty picking a good option, the Eagles’ kick-chase being good, and some patient build-up inside the 22. Unsurprisingly, Tolkin spoke after the match of the need to turn those opportunities into points.
At the half: Quins 14-11 USA.
The second half was a bit of a scramble with lots of subs on both sides.
As Scully put it: “We did let a little turnover and ill-discipline creep into our game at the end of the first half, but I feel like we were still in control. In the second half I think we went away from the things that brought us a lot of joy in the first half.”
MacGinty continued to make breaks while he was on, including one into the 22 when his pass just went off the fingertips of John Quill.
Niku Kruger came on at the start of the second half for his first real action with the full Eagles. Coach Tolkin said, “I thought Niku Kruger…showed composure and did some good things out there.”
Scully highlighted the importance of the play of the halfbacks: “If we have a 9 and 10 who can take us around the field, put us in the right areas, then we’ll be really competitive.”
Showing a change in tactics, with the first chance from a kickable position in the second half, the Eagles chose to kick to touch. After the lineout, there was a turnover when Samu Manoa and Kruger weren’t on the same page. From the next penalty in a kickable position, the choice was to take the penalty goal. But, MacGinty missed another one. That was his last action as he was replaced at 10 by Folau Nuia. One of Nuia’s early decisions was to chip ahead to himself inside the 22 when there were clearly players outside of him expecting the ball would come their way.
Soon after that, Nuia made a break, got the ball to Quill who made a great pass to Test to put the USA within striking distance. That pressure led to a central penalty 5 meters out. The straightforward penalty goal was put over by Nuia. 14-14.
Quins kept the Eagles under pressure by opting to kick to touch from several penalties inside 30 meters. That pressure ended with another driving maul try for Wallace. Quinn 21-14 USA.
Ben Bottica, on for Nick Evans, put over a lengthy penalty goal after Joseph Taufete’e conceded a penalty on his first scrum as an Eagle. Quins 24-14 USA.
It looked like the match would end with a fizzle when the USA restart went directly into touch. However, at the resulting scrum, it was the Eagles’ turn to win a penalty. With no time for a lineout, the Eagles ran. In the last sequence of the game, Andrew Durutalo was prominent, Taufete’e made a good pass, Kruger made some good decisions, Lou Stanfill showed some good hands, and Test was able to end the game with a try.
About the struggles in the second half and the lack of continuity between personnel, Tolkin said, “That’s why we play these games. Niku [Kruger] needed 40 minutes out there under pressure. Folau Nuia hasn’t played a lot at 10 and he stepped in for Shalom [Suniula].” Shalom Suniula was a last minute scratch from the roster.
Tolkin concluded: “We’re going to be hit with obstacles and we have to battle through them. And that experience today helped us.”
USA starting lineup: 1) Eric Fry, 2) Phil Thiel, 3) Titi Lamositele, 4) Cameron Dolan, 5) Greg Peterson, 6) Al McFarland, 7) John Quill, 8) Samu Manoa, 9) Mike Petri, 10) AJ MacGinty, 11) Brett Thompson, 12) Thretton Palamo, 13) Seamus Kelly, 14) Takudzwa Ngwenya, 15) Blaine Scully (C)
Reserves: 16 ) Zach Fenoglio, 17) Olive Kilifi, 18) Chris Baumann, 19) Matekitonga Moeakiola 20) Joseph Taufete’e 21) Louis Stanfill, 22) Matt Trouville, 23) Andrew Duratolo, 24) Niku Kruger, 25) Folau Niua, 26) Zack Test, 27)
Harlequins starting lineup:1) Mark Lambert, 2) Rob Buchanan, 3) Kyle Sinckler, 4) George Merrick, 5) Sam Twomey, 6) Jack Clifford, 7) Luke Wallace, 8) Mat Luamanu, 9) Karl Dickson, 10) Nick Evans, 11) Charlie Walker, 12) Winston Stanley, 13) Harry Sloan, 14) Marland Yarde, 15) Ollie Lindsay-Hague
Reserves: 16) Joe Gray, 17) Owen Evans 18) Adam Jones, 19) Stan South, 20) Archie White, 21) Tito Tebaldi 22) Ben Botica, 23) Ross Chisholm, 24) Tim Swiel, 25) Dave Ward, 26) George Lowe
That’s it… Feel free to comment below, look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter@: RugbyWrapUp, Jake Frechette, Junoir Blaber, James Harrington, Jamie Wall, Nick Hall, DJ Eberle, Scheenagh Harrington, Jamie Loyd, Cody Kuxmann, Karen Ritter, Audrey Youn, Akweley Okine, Rocky Brown and Declan Yeats, respectively.