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The USA's June is in the books, with a 1-2 record. Disappointment from losses to Japan and Scotland was quelled by a dramatic win over Canada. But what are the lessons we've learned from the month as a whole?
1) Canada’s Beatable
It took a lot, including a couple of yellow cards and an injury to dynamic scrumhalf Phil Mack, but the Eagles finally got the better of Canada. This rivalry is an important measuring tool for the USA. Canada and America share similar struggles – large geographical area, little assembly time, rugby’s low on the nation’s sporting totem pole, lack of money – And Canada’s population is about a 10th of ours. Still, Canada is one of just a few nations without a professional league that routinely beats the United States.
The USA’s short-term goal, on the international 15s stage, should be being the best rugby country in the world without a domestic professional league (or at least among the non-Pacific Island nations). As long as Canada beats the United States more often than not, that goal's not being reached.
2) The Eagles Can Score
Take away the Scotland test, played in lung-smothering conditions at the beginning of the USA’s time together, and the Eagles have scored three or more tries and 25 or more points in their last six outings. Compared to the six games prior to that, during which the Eagles scored five tries in total and broke the 20-point barrier just once, the Eagle attack is humming. All that with a third-choice flyhalf, which leads me to my next point.
3) There's Depth…All Over
No. 8 Cam Dolan goes down, and Danny Barrett steps in seamlessly. Hooker Phil Thiel plays hurt and doesn’t make it 80 minutes, Tom Coolican comes in and changes the game. Inside center Andrew Suniula suffers a knee injury, and Thretton Palamo and Folau Niua keep the midfield strong.
The depth at lock and back row is unprecedented for an American team, and there are some pretty good players and promising talents not even on the traveling squad. This group could not be in better shape with the World Cup just over a year away.
Flyhalf has perpetually been a position of need, but Shalom Suniula’s performance with Toby L’Estrange and Adam Siddall out injured was assuring. Once Siddall comes back, Shalom becomes Mike Petri’s competition at 9, creating some depth at the other position that’s plagued the USA before.
4) Blaine Scully is World Class
He didn’t make some of the individually brilliant runs we’ve seen from Taku Ngwenya and Luke Hume, but he was where he was supposed to be every time, and his finishing ability was top notch. He also created line breaks, especially against Japan. Only Chris Wyles had arguably a better June than Scully, and the two of them have obvisouly created some real chemistry. The USA's had dynamic back threes before, including going into the last World Cup, but not one that got the ball enough or clicked like this when it did see the rock. Now it's between Brett Thompson, Hume and Tim Maupin to see who can complete the unit.
5) When Playing With the Ball in Front of Them, the Eagles’ Defense can be Imposing
Once the bounce of a loose ball, whether dropped by the USA or the other team, the Eagles are in trouble. They have to work on their reaction time and patience in broken-play defense. But good pressure is being put on opposition out of the set pieces and in structured play, and Samu Manoa’s leading the charge when it comes to decapitating ball carriers. There’s work to be done, but the bones are there.