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The first two test matches of the year have produced no tries for the Eagles (and one try for the opposition) and two close losses. Head Coach Mike Tolkin said this week has been about making sure the USA scored tries.


“The thing about the Ireland game is, we didn’t really have anything to build off,” said Tolkin. “The scrums were a problem, and in the first half we didn’t have a single lineout. And with the ball being very slow out of the ruck, that made it very difficult for us to attack the way we know we can.”

Defensively the USA was outstanding , with a 92 percent tackle rate, and holding Ireland to no tries. And in fact, it’s reasonable to say that the USA defense has probably given up 12 points in the last two games. Other penalties were from infractions in the middle of the field, and the try Canada scored was from a mistake on a lineout, not a mistake on defense.

So the defense is working. Offensively, the USA has to punish ball-killers, and has to have referee Francisco Pestrana be somewhat sympathetic to their cause. Tonga slows the ball down in the breakdown, too, and if they aren’t punished, the Eagles will struggle to score tries.

And score tries they must. If they want to win the Pacific Nations Cup, they need to win their next three games, with bonus points, and they need Canada to lose to Japan in the Canadians’ final match later this month.

(Canada should be commended for going 3-0 so far, but things have played right into their hands this season; they have played three home matches. The weather favored them, and Fiji had a long flight and very little time to acclimate to Canada time before having to play. In this lopsided season, where Canada and Japan get three home games, while the USA and Fiji get three on the road. Tonga plays all four of their matches away from home.)

Along with getting more first-phases attacking opportunities, and getting quicker ball from the ruck, the USA needs to finish the opportunities they do get. Support running, using the support when it’s there, and not dropping balls all have been on the list. Against Ireland, fans know that if Taku Ngwenya had been able to hold onto the ball after chasing Samu Manoa’s kick, or if Luke Hume had seen Toby L’Estrange on his left, or if Seamus Kelly had had a player closer to him, things might well have been different.

And different, at least offensively, is what the USA needs.