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Eagle Eye is an opinion column covering the USA national teams written by Alex Goff https://twitter.com/goffonrugby
The USA Men's National 15s team has a massive task to face this coming weekend as the Eagles attempt to overcome an 18-point deficit in the two-game World Cup Qualifier series.
History says they can't do it, because the USA has beaten Canada once in their last 11 meetings, and never, ever, by more than 15.
More than that, of course, is the woeful series of performances this season, including against Canada. Defensively, the Eagles are not bad at all. The three tries they gave up Saturday against Canada were more about offensives mistakes than defensive. Also on the plus side, the new scrum laws have given the Eagles a chance to set a solid platform. And their lineout and restarts are good.
But the Eagles offense is bad. It's worth nine points, and that's about it - nine points being their tally against Canada twice, and against Tonga. Against Fiji they scored 10 (!) and against Ireland 12. Only in their loss to Japan did they score significantly more - 20.
So what is wrong with this offense? They had set piece ball. They defended well enough to force nine turnovers. They were able to win restarts. What happened?
Box Kicks. The point of the box kicks from scrumhalf was to either relieve defensive pressure, or to gain ground and start a ruck further downfield. With one or two exceptions, they failed. Sometimes the kick was bad. Sometimes the chase was bad. Sometimes both. Poor tackling and positioning on two box kicks led to Canadian tries. In the end, this tactic has to be shelved until it can be done right.
Here's how the box kick can work (fast-forward to 6:30)
Or here, go to 2:55
The point of these two clips is to show you that you can make the box kick work by chasing like maniacs. It also shows that it's worthwhile doing in the middle of the field, and it's a very good thing to do on a turnover, because your defensive line is flat, and therefore not in a good position to run.
Passing. Too much USA passing was to the man or behind the man. The biggest difference between Canada and the USA was that Canada players were running onto the ball.
Tactical Decisions. The USA offensive idea is that the scrumhalf takes a few steps out to fix the defense, and then passes. This doesn't work because a) you need a scrumhalf with world-class change of direction and b) it gives defenses time to move up. But even if you accept the premise, Canada spread very quickly - their tenacity on defense is admirable. The Eagles should instead have been popping one-balls to forwards running off the fringes. What will fix the defense, Mike Petri running sideways, or Samu Manoa running down your throat?
In the end, it was the USA backs that had to crash and bash through the line.
Slow, slow ball. On several occasions the Eagles did get into scoring position. Canada, of course, killed the ball and somebody should have received a card. OK, fine. But some more aggressive rucking would have helped there. And, when they won the ball in the ruck, they held onto it far too long. The USA was told to "use it!" by referee Leighton Hodges several times, and Canada maybe once. Once the ball is there, somebody needed to pick-and-go, or pick-and-pass. That's how they scored on Japan.
The fear of making the wrong decision seems to have made for no decision at all. The USA rugby team had, in my opinion, a poor offensive plan, and executed it poorly. The players on the field failed to adjust to what Canada was giving them. And they failed to appreciate the basic tenets of good rugby - quick ball, go forward as quickly as possible, don't give the defense time to think - which were also how they managed to score three tries against Japan in June.
Forget about overcoming an 18-point deficit. How about fixing these problems?