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In the end the difference was five points.

The USA women’s rugby team missed the final of the Nations Cup by five points. And, in fact, it wasn’t even that much, because the five points could have been covered with one penalty kick.

What the Eagles learned, and it was a harsh lesson, is that in tournament play, points matter. Every point matters. Kimber Rozier strolls up to a supposedly meaningless penalty attempt in front of the posts against South Africa, and misses.

No problem, right? USA wins 32-22 (in fact, the kick was such a sitter that virtually everyone, including, unfortunately, this writer, thought she had made it). But yes, problem. Any pool play scenario has the possibility of games being won or lost by points difference. That kick mattered.

Why? Well once again, against Canada, the Eagles won, but missed at least one easy kick. Now we’re looking at five or six points left on the field.

Then you come to the England game. Put aside for the moment the fact that the USA came out terribly flat and 15 minutes in were down 14-0, and think on how they got back into the game. Try just to the right of the posts; Anne Peterson’s majestic kick is high and long, which it didn’t need to be, and wide. Four points lost (two plus for USA, two minus for England).

At the end of the game, a try in front of the posts – right in front – and again the kick is missed. Another four points.

Misses on very makeable kicks cost the USA at least nine points on the plus side, and at least four on the minus for England. Had the Eagles made those kicks, they would have been at a +16 and England a +8.

Now to why the USA kickers – Kimber Rozier and Anne Peterson – missed those kicks. They don’t know how to kick for goal. Certainly they know how to strike the ball. Peterson’s distance and height are impressive. But her approach leads to inconsistency. She turns her back on the ball when it’s teed up, runs at the ball hard, and wellies it a mile. She doesn’t need all that distance.

In fact, she is so confident of her distance that she backs up a good 15 meters on some kicks. But that drastically increases the margin for error. A penalty goal in front of the posts from 25 meters out has less than half the angle available compared to a penalty ten meters out.

While, yes, a conversion can be charged down, it’s still worth keeping it close. If you back up to the 22 for a conversion in front of the posts, you have to keep your kick within an angle of about 25.6 degrees (meaning, 12.8 degrees off either side and you miss). Reduce that distance to 18 meters, and your angle of success is now 31 degrees. At 15 meters, it’s 37.

In addition, there’s a reason rugby kickers approach the ball the way they do. Running to the ball jogs your head and your eyes – you cannot be sure you see the ball properly at the time of the strike. Kickers should walk or move quickly but smoothly to the ball.

Second, a long run-up can mean you are more likely to miss-time your foot plant and the strike of the ball.

Anne Peterson kicks like a soccer goalie, and the results are similar – lots of power, height and distance, but accuracy lacking.

Kimber Rozier takes a completely different approach. She kicks like a soccer midfielder, leaning back at she kicks, which allows for height if she wants it, but no power.

Neither of these players looks like they have ever in their lives had someone teach them how to kick at goal. At the test rugby level, this is a crucial skill. The USA women’s team looks like it has many of the goods – some terrific forwards, including Jillion Potter, who may be the best in the world at her position – and some backs who can worry anyone.

But at this level, and we’re talking about the top five or six teams in the world, margins are small. If the Eagles want to get back to the World Cup semifinals, or better, they have to approach all aspects of play at a test level. Goalkicking is one of those. Poor goalkicking approach, and, in my opinion, a lack of understanding about how important it is every time, means the USA will not play for the Nation’s Cup trophy in Glendale.

Addendum: I of course just thought of this and should have mentioned it earlier - the standard of goalkicking in women's rugby in the USA is poor. No one has time to teach it (although when I coached a HS girls team I always had special goalkicking sessions, in part because I knew our chief rivals did, as well). But because goalkicking is so poor, it's almost irrelevant. Tries are the thing in college and club, so very few goalkickers are ever really asked to win a game, or be under pressure to make kicks, especially medium-difficulty ones.

Because of that, no kickers come to the USA team with that sense of urgency, that sense of expectation, that she NEEDS to make this kick and, in fact SHOULD make it.