Rugby News & Views From an American Perspective
The final score, almost ten minutes into full-time, was spawned by the Eagles Achilles heel of the tour. Under pressure in the scrum the entire tour, the USA had one final chance to make right with a scrum near their own line with time apparently up on the clock. Georgia stole the scrum, went wide, and scored the game winner.
The loss denied the Eagles a clean sweep of their 2010 test matches and dropped their tour record to 1-3. The match was a physical and close encounter between the USA and hosts Georgia, who fielded a much different squad from their 2009 Churchill Cup squad that the USA handled easily.
Under continued pressure, the American defense proved it was solid and physical. In an all out tactical blitz, O’Sullivan’s Eagles kept the Georgians guessing in all aspects of the game, especially on attack.
A versatile group of loose forwards, Todd Clever, Inaki Basauri, and Louis Stanfill, popped around the scrums and lineouts, never letting the Georgians get a good read on the American set-piece.
“We had a great team performance and everyone gave 110% and definitely put their bodies on the line. I’m very proud of how we played,” said O’Sullivan.
Paul Emerick opened the USA’s scoring and earned his 60th point in international rugby. Nese Malifa added six points in the first half by way of drop goal and penalty, bringing the Eagles ahead 11-6 at halftime.
Nese Malifa and Chris Wyles added to the USA’s scoring in the second half as they each nailed drop goals to give the Eagles a 17-12 lead over Georgia at the final hooter, but almost ten minutes of injury time gave Georgia time to mount an attack. The American defense held strong and weathered a Georgian onslaught and it appeared to be over when the home team knocked the ball on in the waning seconds.
Unfortunately for the USA, one more scrum was called and the collective will of 35,000 raucous Georgian fans was aimed at the final set piece of the match. Georgia stole the American ball and scored in the final play to tie the match. Georgia’s conversion hit the mark, sealing the victory for the home side with a final score of 19-17.
“We played a really good game of rugby,” said O’Sullivan. “It came right down to the wire and it really could have gone either way.”
It’s a difficult position to close out the year with a tough loss, but the match was their best overall effort of the November Tour. Georgia proved to be the most physical matchup the Eagles have faced in some time and the defense showed that it has the ability to front up physically.
Moving forward, there are still plenty of questions that needed answered as the Eagles head into a World Cup year. The scrum is certainly at the top of the list as the team’s trouble starved a talented set of backs of good ball to work with. If the USA can sort out issues with their set pieces, then they become an even more dangerous opponent.
Looking forward to the Rugby World Cup 2011, the Eagles are targeting Russia in the pool as a winnable matchup. Getting one win in the World Cup may not seem like a significant feat, except that the Eagles have only notched one World Cup victory in team history.
Aside from a couple of gatherings for practice, the USA’s next competition comes via the Churchill Cup next June. The World Cup begins in September, thus limiting the USA’s preparation time.
Overall, the November tour gets mixed grades. The USA got to play two test matches (Portugal & Georgia) and two other games (Saracens & Scotland A). The USA has made a habit, in recent years, of playing against professional sides and chalking them up as learning experiences. While the USA played two such matches on the tour, Canada got in four full test matches on their November Tour.
On the upside, Eddie O’Sullivan saw a lot of players in action and under a massive amount of pressure. Needing to settle on a World Cup squad by the end of the next Churchill Cup (if not before), this was an important month for many players and their hopes of representing the USA next year. The defense also showed up very strong in all four matches and they definitely needed to as they were continually under pressure.
The win over Portugal gets a bit of a leg up as Canada narrowly snuck by Portugal in their test match today. Could it be that the gap between the USA and Canada isn’t that wide?
On the low-end, the set piece appeared to go backwards from an already shaky standard. Without a platform to perform, the Eagles offense is limited in the opportunities they are given. The team also showed discipline issues, some that weren’t their fault, some of their own doing.
One thing is certain… don’t be surprised next year when the Russians come to New Zealand prepared to mimic the tactics the USA saw from Portugal and Georgia.
USA Tries: Emerick Penalties: Malifa (2) Drop Goals: Malifa, Wyles
1 Mate Moeakiola (Bobigny 93), 2 Phillip Thiel (Life University), 3 Shawn Pittman (London Welsh), 4 Samu Manoa (San Francisco Golden Gate), 5 Hayden Smith (Saracens), 6 Louis Stanfill (Mogliano), 7 Todd Clever* (Suntory), 8 Inaki Basauri (L’aquila), 9 Tim Usasz (Nottingham), 10 Nese Malifa (Glendale), 11 Kevin Swiryn (Agen), 12 Andrew Suniula (Chicago Griffins), 13 Paul Emerick (Ulster), 14 Takudzwa Ngwenya, 15 Chris Wyles (Saracens)
16 Chris Biller (San Francisco Golden Gate), 17 Mike MacDonald (Leeds Carnegie), 18 Scott Lavalla (Dublin University), 19 Nic Johnson (Denver Barbarians), 20 Mike Petri (Sale), 21 Taivalu Enosa (Belmont Shore), 22 Setareki Tuilevuka (Montpelier)
1 Goderdzi Shvelidze (Montpellier), 2 Akvsenti Giorgadze (Castres), 3 David Kubriashvili (Toulon), 4 Shalva Sutiashvili (Massy), 5 Levan Datunashvili (Figeaque), 6 Simon Maisuradze (Villeurban), 7 Giorgi Chkhaidze (Montpellier), 8 Beasrion Udesiani (Maccon), 9 Irakli Abuseridze* (Auxerre), 10 Lasha Malaguradze (Beziers), 11 Lekso Gugava (Lelo), 12 Tedo Zibzibadaze (Perigueux), 13 Irakli Chkivakdze (Aia), 14 Irakli Machkaneli (Maccon), 15 Basiki Khamashuridze (Aia)
16 Iuri Natriashvili (Farul Constanta), 17 David Zirakishvili (Clermont), 18 Viktor Kolelishvili (Lelo), 19 Giorgi Nesadze (Montauban), 20 Bidzina Samkharadze (Farul Constanta), 21 David Kacharava (Nice Cote d’Azur), 22 Merab Kvirikashvili (Figeaque)