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The USA Men’s National Team ended their 2013 season with two victories, beating Russia 28-7 Nov. 23, a week after edging Georgia 25-23.
This was, interestingly, the first time the Eagles had won two in a row since 2010, but it was also a game where the United States should have actually blown out the Bears by a considerable margin.
A look at how the USA scored, and how they didn’t, shows why that’s true.
3rd Minute: After a series of phases the Eagles get to the Russia 22. They are making the gain line pretty much every possession, but a knock-on at the base of the ruck turns the ball over.
11th Minute: Todd Clever busts through the line and has Folau Niua on his butt … but the offload is a bit ambitious. If Clever had held onto the ball and recycled, we might have seen a try here.
13th Minute: The USA again looks dominant in attack, with Samu Manoa among those pushing the Russians back. Robbie Shaw opts for a grubber kick to the corner for Blaine Scully. It’s unclear who called for his, but it’s a poor option given that the Eagles had done nothing to indicate they couldn’t keep going forward.
15th Minute: After a poor pass bounces behind Tim Maupin, the wing grabs the ball and breaks several tackles to get into the Russian 22. Quick recycle and a couple more surges and then hands out wide, where Scott LaValla makes a run. He, however, tries to do too much with it and is stripped of the ball.
As it turns out, it’s all good as LaValla makes an excellent tackle off the scrum, forcing a kick Russia didn’t want to make. The Eagles counter, and Maupin goes through and around a variety of Russian tacklers. Quick recycle and out to Folau Niua, who has Clever and LaValla outside, but Chris Wyles unmarked on his inside. Try.
24th Minute: After playing a ton of defense, and for the most part pushing Russia back, the USA get the ball back when Nick Wallace steals it. Titi Lamositele goes on a rumbling run into the Russian 22, but loses the ball – another player trying to do too much. The USA has players in support, but instead Russia kicks clear.
Still … the USA regains possession, and after a brilliant run from Andrew Suniula, they sent it wide where Manoa, who could have used Maupin outside him, bumps off a tackler and scores.
35th Minute: After a couple of penalties and a great play by Maupin put the USA in the Russian 22, the Eagles attack. Chris Wyles sends a kick through and the bounce seems perfect for him. But he hesitates a fraction of a second, and can’t gather the ball. Sure try if he doesn’t drop it.
38th Minute: Moments later, Nick Wallace breaks through and has support and a gap on his right. He could also just have taken a tackle and the try was there to be scored. He opts for a pass that Grigory Tsnobiladze blocks, and Russia gets the ball back.
2nd Minute of 2nd half: Quick tap by Robbie Shaw on a penalty is called back for not being near the mark. Shaw was through, and had only one man to beat.
9th Minute: The forwards and then Niua get the USA within 5 meters, but some flat passing and Tim Maupin being isolated ends that attack with a penalty.
15th Minute: Andrew Suniula breaks out of the USA 22 after the Eagles win a scrum. He links with Niua who passes to Scully. Back to Niua, and then they’re ten meters out.
But Adam Siddall is clearly of two minds despite having five guys out wide, and is wrapped up.
Even so, the Eagles recycle and Clever and Wyles do well to get the ball out wide. Then Tuisamoa is off and running and is just shoelace tackled before the line. USA players get impatient and start sending loopy passes when they could have just worked their forwards a bit more.
17th Minute: Eagles back in the Russian 22 but are now flinging the ball around. Suniula is through again but passes off to Wallace, who is in front.
22nd Minute: USA in the 22 due to a high ball being dropped by Russia. Clever through and he offloads to Suniula, who looks to be about to score before he is tripped up by a Russian player. Russia kills the ball and Eagles take a penalty.
27th Minute: After a prolonged period on defense, the Eagles turn the ball over and Shaun Davies pops a kick over the Russian line. He gets the ball back about 14 meters inside the Russian half and has Maupin with him. But the offload from the ground gets dropped as Maupin needed to be behind Davies. Had he been able to get the ball, Maupin would have had no one to stop him going to the corner.
31st Minute: USA has a lineout in the Russian 22. Samu Manoa makes ground on the narrow side, but another forced offload, this one from Phil Thiel to Shaun Davies, ends in a knock-on.
But the Eagles are back again, only to drop the ball in the 22 once more. Russia then runs the ball back to the USA 22.
33rd Minute: USA wins a scrum well within their own 22. Siddall kicks deep and Seamus Kelly makes an outstanding play to tackle the ballcarrier and then steal the ball in the ruck. The ball is recycled but fumbled badly as Davies seems to be jawing at the ref.
USA gets a scrum, though, but badly muff the possession.
37th Minute: Todd Clever on the charge into the Russian 22. He makes an unnecessary offload that flies forward and into touch.
40th Minute: Finally. USA wins a lineout and Maupin gets by the gainline before Davies squirms through. A couple of phases later there’s a penalty. Davies taps quickly, passes to Clever, and then the ball is out to Thiel who passes back inside to Dolan for a try.
In looking at these try-scoring opportunities, it’s important to remember that if you miss a chance, but keep the pressure on, then you can’t really call another possession in the 22 (for example) a separate chance.
Each incident ended with Russia getting out of trouble in some way. In making this list we can see that somewhere around ten really good scoring opportunities were left on the table. Of those, four or five would clearly have been tries were it not for one error. That means that the USA could have won the game against Russia 52-7 (four extra tries, two converted) and easily more than that.
It’s all fungible; all hypothetical; all speculative, but it illustrates a point. For the USA to be better, they have to not only win games, but they should win by crushing middling opponents. Six tries in two games is a massive improvement over seven in the previous eight games, but the Eagles have the talent to score much more.