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I would like to respectfully disagree. I disagree in part because when the
USA team was losing by 50 to Canada, and squeaking by Russia, and losing to
Japan and Georgia, no one said a word about hat being a problem.
But more I disagree because Russia and Romania are not bad rugby teams. Both countries have robust domestic club scenes. Both countries have government support for their rugby teams. Both have long rugby histories, that include victories over the USA.
In addition, a year ago we were watching a USA rugby team that was hamstrung by the most conservative of game plans. The players were battling hard, but their offensive approach seemed designed to give games away.
In 2011, the USA was 2-7, and scored 126 points (14 a game). This year, the USA was 3-3 and scored 158 points (26 a game).
In the past 24 months, the USA lost to Georgia once, lost to Tonga by 31, Canada twice by an average score of 28-15, and beat Russia twice by an average score of 23-16.
This year, the Eagles beat Georgia by 16, lost to Tonga by 9, lost to Canada by three, and beat Russia 40-26. That is obvious improvement.
(By the way, Tonga has in the last 13 months beaten both France and Scotland.)
Then we look at Romania, a team that had just lost to Japan 34-23 in a game that was much closer. Romania, with a forward pack that was supposed to dominate in the scrum and were playing at home. This was supposed to be a close, tough game, and instead the Americans destroyed the Oaks 34-3.
If you think Romania is a weak team, then you’re welcome to that opinion, but what should the USA do to a weak team? Dominate them. That’s what the USA did. Romania had only two or three real scoring opportunities, and got one penalty goal out of them. The USA scored five tries, and put the Oaks under pressure constantly. I ask you, what more do you want?
No, Romania was not New Zealand, or even Wales. But they are a tough rugby nation, and to crush them in their home stadium like that is a result any national team would be proud of. To put it in perspective, this is the first time the Eagles have won an overseas tour since 2003.
This is the first time the USA has won a game by more than 30 points since
2008 (43-9 over Uruguay in Salt Lake City). This was the first win of such
magnitude at an opponent’s stadium since the USA beat Spain 62-13 in Madrid
And more than all of that – this wasn’t just opposition weakness. Romania defended very tough, and had a variety of skills. They can run. Their scrum and their maul are formidable weapons, but the USA negated those weapons by not dropping the ball, ensuring quick ruck ball, and in the mauls, by using Lou Stanfill and Scott LaValla to hold up ballcarriers, and their front row to half forward momentum.
Any team that wanted to score against Romania had to be able to construct tries, and that’s exactly what the Eagles did. Their opening try by Andrew Suniula was a pattern of play try. Paul Emerick’s was the game – a clear execution of game plan combined with a specific backline play. Tries by Wyles and Ngwenya likewise were from a clear pattern of play.
So this was a butt-whuppin’ born not out of luck, or a series of mistakes by the opposition, but because the USA played well.
Now, having said that, the USA team needs to be better. In addition, the USA program – how we train and produce players, and the level of play they enjoy domestically, must be better, too. If the USA is going to start beating Tier I nations, or even the higher-level Tier IIs like Canada, Fiji, Tonga, or Japan, the players are going to have to come into camp more battle-tested.
But this result was still something we have not seen in a long time. What we want is for the USA teams to beat the teams they should beat, well, and then inch up the list of teams they should beat. The Eagles did this on this tour, and that’s good.