Rugby News & Views From an American Perspective
Well, the day didn’t really turn out as most of us would have liked, but overall it was agreat day to watch rugby. The dark and rainy skies that greeted us as we rolled into the parking lot at Toyota Park (oh yeah… $15 for parking… seriously?) cleared and everyone was treated to sunny skies for pretty much the rest of the day. I’m guessing the crowd sat around 10,000. I would have liked to seen a bit more (say, 15,000), but it wasn’t a bad number. Remember, that’s an slightly above average draw for some of the overseas professional leagues.
First up was Ireland A and Argentina. Ireland A pretty much dominated the match with a series of quick ball and rolled to an easy victory. The very pro-Ireland crowd had alot to cheer for throughout the match. The two squads also went through a series of dust ups during the match which got uglier and uglier as the match wore on. I’ll have to watch the replay to see who started what, but alot of it felt like Argentina was getting whomped on the pitch and were taking some chep shots.
The second match of the day was the best of the day and rightfully so… it was the championship after all. The England Saxons were heavy favorites over Scotland A, but Scotland gave them on heck of a game and even held the lead with less than 20 minutes to play. The Saxons stepped on the gas down the stretch and won going away. The scoreline didn’t tell the whole story of what was a very close match. Churchill Cup Player of the Tournament Jordan Crane was an absolute beast at #8 throughout the tournament. Sadly, the amount of fans sitting in their seats and cheering reached it’s apex during the Scotland A/Saxons match. One would think that the Eagles match would get that honor, but I guess not. The seats began to thin out once the final whistle blew.
Now, onto the match I was waiting all day for… the Eagles vrs. Canada. Again, I was disappointed to see the seats begin to thin out before our team played. The National Anthems played and I stood there and wondered what the Eagles were feeling. Did our National Anthem inspire them like it does so many others. I’ve heard the anthem countless times and it always gives me goosebumps. I said a little prayer for the Eagles and hoped for the best. Unfortunately things didn’t really work out too well. The Eagles had the upper hand most of the first half, but only took a 10-0 lead into the half. The lead could have been 20-0 or even more had the Eagles finished off better. After a strong start to the match, the crowd slowly began to lose interest too. Unbelievable. Say what you will about the Eagles, but some of their “supposed” fans gave up on them too. I cheered to the end with a group of faithful friends. O.K., sorry about that. It really bothered me. Back to the match. The Eagles came out for the second half flat, Canada upped the tempo of the match, and rolled to victory.
What went wrong? The set pieces were a mess all day long, cost the Eagles some very nice field position, and gave Canada one of their softest tries. The Eagles also failed to get the ball into the hands of their playmakers. Chris Wyles, DeBartolo, Emerick, and Ngwenya got little ball to work with. Ngwenya needed the ball to make up for letting in two tries with weak defense. I’ve been a big supporter of Z (and will continue to be), but I won’t candycoat it. He cost them two tries. The other big thing is the same one that is always harped on… fitness. I’m going to continue to kick the dead horse, because it is the truth. I like that Scott Johnson has thrown down the gauntlet regarding player fitness. Thorburn complained about the Eagles fitness, but he continually picked the same players. It sounds like Johnson is prepared to make some heads roll. I agree with him too. I think the Eagles would be better off with a more fit, but less skilled players on the pitch.
What went well? Again, Emerick was exceptional on defense and the few times he got the ball in attack. He is the Eagles best player. Todd Clever was everywhere all match long, just as is expected of a good flanker. Kort Schubert also had a strong match and is clearly the best option at #8 for the Eagles. He came off late, but I think he could have went the distance. I also like Sika alot better at inside center and he broke the gainline multiple times and played solid defense. Petri also had a decent game and I think he will continue to get better as he faces more and more Internaitonal level conmpetition.
Yes, it was a disappointing end to the Churchill Cup, but I was happy to enjoy a day full of International rugby. It was a great thing that we don’t get enough of here in the USA. Getting out there and cheering on those teams, especially the Eagles, just makes me want a professional rugby league here in the USA even more.
I’ll have more in the coming week as I regather my thoughts on the match and festivities.
Until then, thanks for stopping by.