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Heading into USA v Ireland at Red Bull Arena on Saturday, I rationally knew that there was little chance of an American win. However, having looked closely at some specific areas of the Eagles’ recent performances, there were things I was focused on as gauges for the USA performance. There was a part of me on Saturday that did not understand what I was seeing. In two areas of play I’ve paid attention to—restarts and attacking structure—things went quite well against Ireland.
Defensive pressure from restarts led directly to two USA tries. That was excellent, and much better than expected. Part of the reason the Eagles performed well is connected to Ireland’s strategy. They were looking to run from deep, and even when Joey Carbery did opt to kick, he was not simply going for territory. Still, the Eagles made that tactic difficult for Ireland and those two tries were fair recompense.
There were passages of play inside the Ireland half when the Eagles maintained possession and attacked with a clear structure and cohesion. That is something that did not happen in the matches against the New Zealand Maori, Romania, and Tonga in November. Inside the first 10 minutes of the match, the Eagles had nearly 30 phases. Those were not all in one passage, but that is a hefty attacking shift.
And yet, Ireland won by 36 points. The gauges I was looking at indicated positive things from the Eagles, but missed the areas of the match in which the Eagles were dominated by Ireland.
According to statistics on ESPN.co.uk, the Eagles missed 33 tackles while Ireland missed 12. Considering that the match was relatively equal in terms of possession and territory, and that the teams had a similar number of runs, that missed tackle count is a big deal.
In addition to missed tackles, there were some poor decisions made out wide defensively. Those poor decisions, combined with the missed tackles and some good passing from Ireland, helped Ireland cruise up and down the pitch.
Another area in which Ireland was dominant was scrums. Yes, the USA had five scrums and won all five. Ireland had seven scrums and won all seven. However, there is a big difference in the quality of those wins. Ireland’s scrum gained territory; USA’s scrum survived. Below is a table that shows the difference. The bottom row is an average of the territory gained on the first phase, or from kicking to touch from penalty, following attacking scrums. While both sides won 100% of their scrums, Ireland gained nearly four times the territory per scrum. That imbalance would almost certainly be greater except one of Ireland’s scrum, which was dominant and led to a try, was only five meters out.
Penalties won was another area in which the match was relatively even. The Eagles won seven penalties, five in the attacking half; Ireland won eight penalties, six in the attacking half. Of the five penalties USA won in the attacking half, two were outside the range of Aj MacGinty’s goal-kicking (49 and 50 meters out). In the eighth minute, the Eagles won a kickable penalty (38 meters out, 15 meters from the center of the field) and opted to kick to touch. That chance resulted in no points scored.
The Eagles scored five points, in total, from those five penalties. That is an average return of a point per penalty. That is well below their return from penalties in the Americas Rugby Championship—2.11 points per penalty.
Ireland also had 16 lineouts in the USA half, eight of them inside the USA 22. The USA, meanwhile, had five lineouts in the Ireland half, and only two of those were inside the Ireland 22.
Against Georgia on June 17, the USA is likely to have another hard day at scrum time. However, Georgia does not have the same attacking danger, so another 55-point defensive day is unlikely.
The map below gives more information about the match. The information can be sorted, and additional information can be seen by hovering over individual bubbles.