The USA Men’s Eagles are in the middle of their battle in the Rugby World Cup in the United Kingdom. USA Rugby’s Chad Wise reports on their latest match against Scotland on September 27:
LEEDS, England – Scotland scored five second-half tries at Elland Road Sunday to overcome the USA Men’s Eagles’ halftime lead and win the Rugby World Cup 2015 Pool B matchup, 39-16.
Prop Titi Lamositele scored the Eagles’ only try of the match and fly half AJ MacGinty kicked three penalties along with the conversion in the loss, which keeps the U.S. at the bottom of the Pool B table after two matches. Mike Tolkin’s side will continue its World Cup campaign Wednesday, Oct. 7, against South Africa.
Following the tournament-opening loss to Samoa in Brighton last weekend, the Eagles had a week to recover and train for Sunday’s match in Leeds, whereas Scotland had just four days after its first match against Japan.
The Eagles took the first lead of the match in the third minute after a sweeping attacking phase. The kick from the 10 was in the middle of the park for MacGinty, who put three points on the board to bring his tournament tally to 17 points from the boot.
While the U.S. used its set pieces as an advantage throughout the summer, scoring tries and kicking off attacks against the likes of Canada, Japan, and Samoa, infractions in the lineout cost points early. Phil Thiel, the only player added to the starting XV from the match at Brighton Community Stadium, was penalized in a fifth-minute lineout, and Scotland full back Stuart Hogg kicked a penalty goal after a penalty in the scrum to level the score at 3-3.
Thiel was again whistled for a penalty in a lineout in the ninth minute, from which the Eagles turned the tide on Scotland’s scrum. The front row of Eric Fry, Lamositele, and Thiel drove the pack of the 12th-ranked Scots backwards to win possession, which was lost with a knock a phase later.
Scotland had the better of the attacking opportunities in the first 20 minutes of the first half, but could only add a 16th-minute penalty goal from Finn Russell before the halftime whistle. Hogg missed his second attempt at a three-pointer in the 19th minute as the Eagles succumbed to more penalties.
In the 20th minute, Samu Manoa tackled his opposite number with a purpose and drew penalty, giving the Eagles a five-meter lineout with MacGinty’s kick to touch. Crash balls from the forward pack pushed close before Lamositele grabbed the ball to sneak over the line at the bottom of the breakdown. MacGinty converted the prop’s second career try for the U.S.’s first lead at 10-6.
Hogg nearly redeemed himself for the missed penalty with a break through the gain line to the Eagles’ 22. Faced with one defender, Hogg hurried his pass to Tim Visser, who was too flat to receive the ball cleanly.
Russell also went one for two on penalty goal attempts in the first half, missing a 34th-minute shot at goal. The fly half did not receive any consolation from the Eagles, however, as Taku Ngwenya knocked the ball loose from the Scot with a thunderous challenge minutes later.
Sensing some momentum after Scotland’s missed opportunities, the U.S. confidently moved the ball in the dying minutes of the opening frame. The backs made the most of the their possession with contact-seeking runs passing the gain line, while the forwards showed an excellent work ethic to be in support of the crash balls. With seconds remaining on the clock and inches separating the gain line from the try line, Scotland was penalized for offside. MacGinty extended the lead to 13-6 before the referee sent the teams into the locker rooms with the halftime whistle.
Hoping to keep its spot at the top of the table, Scotland came out of the break roaring. The Eagles were forced to clear the ball in the first minute of the second half after not finding a way out of their own half on foot, and a quick counterattack found Visser on the wing with an overlap. The winger’s first try of the tournament was not converted by Russell, keeping the U.S.’s lead at 13-11.
Scotland applied more pressure in the attacking half of the field and scored a second try through Sean Maitland. Scotland took an 18-13 lead with Russell’s conversion, but MacGinty cut into the new deficit with a penalty goal in the 51st minute to bring the score to 18-16.
Substitutions began for the Eagles after the first 10 minutes of the second half, but Scotland had taken a grip on the match. New props for the men wearing blue helped stabilize the Tier One nation’s scrum, and Willem Nel did even more than that by diving for the post pad in the 53rd minute. The third try for Scotland was converted by first-choice captain and scrum half Greig Laidlaw to extend the lead to 25-16.
The Eagles saw one positive attack end with a knock, which was partly forced by the ill-placed referee as the U.S. entered Scotland’s 22. The team took it in stride, however, and held off a Scotland attack meters from the line in the ensuing minutes. Eventually, the Eagles forced a turnover and set up a lineout, but it was overthrown back to Scottish hands.
“I can’t explain the lack of execution in the lineouts,” Tolkin said. “It had been a strength of ours. It has hurt us so far [at the World Cup].”
Unable to gain turnover ball before Scotland could do any more damage, the Eagles conceded a fourth try to substitute fly half Matt Scott in the 66th minute. Laidlaw’s conversion to increase the lead to 32-16 was enough to somewhat seal the win, but the fourth try also gave Scotland the bonus point towards the Pool B standings.
The Eagles were left wanting inside Scotland’s 22 on several occasions in the final 10 minutes as knock-ons and penalties ended any chance at doubling their point output. Duncan Weir capped the match with his team’s fifth try in the final minute for a 39-16 final score.
“We did not execute basic parts of play at times and we did not always carry through with the game plan we laid out, so that hurt us – especially in the first half,” Tolkin said. “Guys were making big hits and being aggressive, but, the fact is, if we keep having to play defense in our end it keeps increasing the pressure.”
With two wins in its remaining Pool B matches – and varied results in the other matches – the U.S. could still earn a quarterfinals appearance and automatic qualification to Rugby World Cup 2019 in Tokyo. South Africa, next up for the Eagles, rebounded from a monumental loss to Japan with a heavy defeat of Samoa Saturday, moving to second in the pool on seven points.
The U.S. will have 10 days until the first match against South Africa since Rugby World Cup 2007. The noon ET kickoff Wednesday, Oct. 7, will be broadcast live on Universal Sports, with match updates provided by @USARugby on Twitter.
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Until next time,
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