You are here
It happened. Head coach Mike Tolkin traded a chance at a competitive game with South Africa for a better chance of winning the USA’s final match of the Rugby World Cup Sunday against Japan, knowing annihilation at the hands of the Springboks was a potential consequence.
The Eagles acquitted themselves well for 40 minutes but were dismantled in the second half, falling 64-0. It’s a historic loss for the USA – the team’s fifth largest margin of defeat ever, its worst ever in a World Cup, and only its third time being shutout.
Like with any trade, you have to evaluate both ends – what you give up and what you get. In terms of what Tolkin gave up, it’s just about worst-case scenario, though it’s conceivable the score could have been even more drastic if the first half didn’t go the way it did.
As for what the Eagles get, we have to wait for Sunday’s result against the Brave Blossoms to comprehensively evaluate. Best case is a win over Japan. Worst case is anything else.
In the end, what will it all mean? A win over Japan – not a whole lot, just like the Pacific Nations Cup win over Japan, the ’03 World Cup win over Japan, the ’87 World Cup win over Japan or any of the other 10 wins over Japan all time. Yes, Japan beat the ‘Boks, so beating Japan gives ammo to those who believe in the transitive scoring comparison amongst common opponents. Problem is, the Eagles actually played the team Japan beat and were throttled.
However, the effect of such a resounding loss to South Africa has the chance to linger. Think about it – the two most-watched, most ballyhooed Eagles tests of the last several years are also two of their worst losses of all time.
A sold out Soldier Field, 61,500 people, the largest crowd to ever attend a rugby match on American soil, and a live network television audience watched New Zealand disembowel the Eagles 74-6 last November. Wednesday, 54,658 sat in the stands at Olympic Park in London, and presumably millions more watched around the globe, as the Springboks slapped an embarrassing 64 points on the Americans, who posted a more embarrassing 0.
The two largest, most captive audiences in recent years, and arguably ever (this year’s RWC is shattering records for attendance and television ratings), to watch the United States Men’s National Team play rugby witnessed two of the five biggest losses in more than 30 years of competition.
There’s no reason to get apocalyptic. The South African loss doesn’t set American rugby back any number of years. It doesn’t mean the coaches are buffoons or the players donkeys.
And there are positives – the United States is currently riding a three-match win streak over Canada, they have been within two scores of three top-tier rugby nations at halftime in the last couple of months, they have withstood some significant personnel attrition and some have stepped along the way.
But most of those minor accomplishments have occurred when no one outside the American rugby community was paying attention. When the lights have been off, Tolkin, his staff and his charges have made real strides. When the lights have shone brightest, the performances have been regrettable.
If the Eagles beat Japan, it will be significant in the moment – an amateur nation will have beaten a professional nation, again. But two years from now, five years from now and 10 years from now, no one outside our still niche community will remember. When the larger rugby world thinks of Japan at the 2015 World Cup, the upset of South Africa will be all they think about, unless the Brave Blossoms continue their Cinderella run in the knockout stages.
What will the rugby world remember of the 2015 USA Eagles? Not that they were down 14 at halftime against a two-time Webb Ellis Cup winner, but that they conceded the worst loss of the tournament.