Rugby News & Views From an American Perspective
by Ted Hardy,
The Fall Tours were in full swing this weekend with an exciting array of matches to keep rugby fans glued to their seats. From an American perspective, it was a pretty solid tour for both the men and the women.
The Eagles women got their tour off to a good start with a win over Italy before falling in back to back matches against France. The experience was vital for the women as they have lacked opportunities such as this tour in the past. Such opportunities for the women (and men) are incredibly important to the development of the program. After handling Italy fairly easily, the women ran into a buzzsaw against France. The women were outscored 40-3 in their two match set in France.
The Eagles men played some fairly enterprising rugby on their way to a 2-1 tour record. The men started with a nice 40-26 win over Russia in which the scoreline flattered the Russian side. It wasn’t that close of a game as the USA was soundly ahead before giving up a couple late scores. As in the past, the Eagles began to fade around the 60 minute mark. This is an issue that needs resolved if the Eagles are going to have a chance of taking down Canada and taking the most direct route to the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
The Eagles followed up with a tough 22-13 loss to Tonga in which they led for the majority of the match. Tonga was coming off a narrow loss to Italy and then followed their win over the USA with a win over Scotland. A win over Tonga would have been a big moment for this current crop of Eagles. This is a game that the Eagles let slip, but this time it wasn’t the final quarter. After a blistering first half, the Eagles were off-key most of the second half and didn’t put nearly as much pressure on Tonga as they did in the first half. Were it not for a few mistakes in the first half, the Eagles could have went into the break with well over 20 points. A tough loss, but another learning experience for a relatively young squad.
The Eagles avoided a letdown after Tonga and dismantled Romania 34-3. A good finish to one of the better Eagles tours in recent years. There is certainly a long way to go before the RWC2015 qualifiers, but there is potential in this squad that I didn’t see 2-3 years ago. I pray that they continue to put faith in their attack, because I think they are onto something (backs scored all but two tries for the Eagles this tour) and there’s nothing worse than seeing a team go into conservative mode when the stakes are higher (such as in a RWC qualifier).
Have they come far enough to take down Canada next summer? I sure hope so.
While we’re on talk about the Fall tours… it has been a great tour season. How many other sports provide the atmosphere and ambiance as in International tours? The tour concept is something truly special about the game of rugby and the community spirit that it embodies.
Along with Tonga, Samoa has definitely left their mark on the Fall tour season. Not to be outdone by their Pacific Rim rivals, Samoa went to work on some more Six Nations teams. Samoa took down Wales and then nearly shocked France the following week.
For years and years, we’ve heard the rhetoric about the Tier 2 “Minnows” and such. Is this season a sign that the gap is really beginning to close between the so-called “Minnows”? Or is it a fleeting moment. Given Tonga and Samoa’s recent form at the international level (more so Samoa), I’m more inclined to believe that they are here to stay. The rest of Tier 2 still have a way to go though. I also believe that they back-end of Tier 1 have slid closer to being more on the competitive level of many Tier 2 nations.
Regardless, it makes it much more fun when the favorites don’t steamroll their opposition. The more parity in the game of rugby, the better.
The USA men and women departed recently for Dubai and the next round of the IRB World Series. For the women, it is the first tournament of the newly formed IRB Women’s World Series. The series has four stops in this initial season. Along with Dubai, the tournaments take place in the USA, China, and Netherlands. In Dubai, the USA women are pooled with Australia, Netherlands, and France.
The men are pooled with France, Australia, and their old nemesis Canada. It actually isn’t that bad of a draw for the USA. The USA has had moderate success against France (8-19 all time record against) in recent seasons and they trade wins with Canada (10-14 all time record against) for the most part. Two wins are definitely possible… as is going winless in the pool stage. It is really hard to know what to expect from the team at this point. There are flashes of brilliance, but too many mistakes. Consistency is the key if the USA is to rise in the standings and avoid being relegated.
Speaking of… we’re only one tournament into the IRB World Series and I’m officially not a fan of the new format. While I like that more teams are now “core”, I also miss seeing the fringe nations getting a chance at each tournament. I’m sure those nations are also sad not to get the opportunity to play on the big stage. I think the IRB needs to take a long look at expanding the tournament field to 20 or even 24 teams at more than just Hong Kong. With nine tournaments over the course of the series, I think three of those tournaments should have an expanded field of teams. I think Dubai and London would be great candidates to host expanded fields along with Hong Kong.
That about covers it for now. Have a great week and stay safe out there.