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Once again they were in a position to tie or win a game at the end – they had the ball and were within a try – and didn’t succeed. They are now 2-11 in those games. But at the same time, they were ahead at the end against Kenya and Portugal, and so had put themselves in position to win early on.

What I want to focus on is Day Two, specifically how each possession went, and what stopped the USA, or their opponents, from scoring.


USA v Kenya
USA Possessions: 8
Result of Possession
Lost ball in contact
Try
Lost ball in contact
Bad pass lost into touch
Knock-on (actually a bad call)
Knock-on
Try
Forward pass out of contact
Most passes in a possession: 8
Fewest passes in a possession: 1
Average passes per possession: 3.5

Kenya Possessions: 7
Result of Possession
Forward pass
Knock-on
Try
Knock-on
Penalty
Penalty
Interception
Most USA tackles in a possession: 5
Fewest: 0
Average:  2.4

USA wins 12-7


USA v Portugal
USA Possessions: 7
Knock-on
Knock-on
Try
Try
Knock-on
Try
Penalty Goal
Most passes in a possession: 16
Fewest passes in a possession: 1
Average passes per possession: 6.4

Portugal Possessions: 4
Poached in ruck
Try
Knock-on
Try
Most USA tackles in a possession: 4
Fewest: 1
Average:  1.4

USA wins 20-10

 

USA v France
USA Possessions: 9
Try
Try
Kick, gathered by USA
Penalty
Poached in Ruck
Try
Lost lineout
Lost ball in contact
Kick to touch to end game
Most passes in a possession: 18 (twice)
Fewest passes in a possession: 1
Average passes per possession: 6.6

France Possessions: 9
Poached in ruck
Try
Knock-on
Try
Most USA tackles in a possession: 8
Fewest: 0
Average:  2.2

France wins 17-12


The USA did their most damage when they made a lot of passes, keeping the ball alive. This didn’t mean they avoided contact at all costs – sometimes they engaged the defense, and sometimes simply controlled the terms of the contact.

They missed tackles, but not many, and often if one was missed, another was missed, also, so they came in bunches.

The USA beat Portugal in part because they denied the Portuguese the ball, doing this by winning one of their restarts, and also by stealing a ball at the scrum.

After getting some criticism for not opting for a penalty goal that could have won the Bowl in Hong Kong, the USA players were quick to opt for a penalty kick against Portugal to ensure they were two scores ahead. Andrew Durutalo was the one who made sure that happened, and Folau Niua slotted the kicker perfectly.

The USA fails to score, for the most part, because of their own mistakes. Rocco Mauer not accelerating onto a leading pass (not he corrected that during a try-scoring movement later); Tai Enosa sending a needlessly risky pass at the end of the France game; several players dropping the ball; Zack Test going to ground with not enough support, and thus incurring a penalty.

As one hirsute former USA coach often says, a possession is at least five points. But is it? The USA had the ball 24 times, and scored eight times for 44 points. Opponents had the ball 20 times and scored six times for 34 points. So that almost works out. Having the ball means an average of 1.8 points, and the other team having it means an average of 1.7 points. So basically every two times you can get the ball from the other guys, you can expect the value of a try.

That’s why squandering possession is so maddening. Very little that Kenya, Portugal or France did defensively stopped the Eagles – it was all Eagles stopping Eagles.

Of course there’s more to all of this than making tackles or making passes. Rocco Mauer and Mike Palefau both made superb plays on a French kick to the tryline that could have been disastrous – that doesn’t make the stats. Nu’u Punimata’s running, passing, and work in the breakdown was crucial during the USA’s second try against France.

The entire team did brilliantly to score a try when they were down a man due to Mauer being attended to against Kenya (when Kenya should have been a man down for the late hit on Mauer).

Zack Test’s superb stiff-arms, Andrew Durutalo’s work in contact, and Shalom Suniula’s mini-breaks and offloads don’t really make the stats, either.

You have to keep the ball, and, eventually do something with it. But the stats show, for the USA, at least, keeping the ball is key, and the only people preventing them from doing so, are themselves.