You are here
The USA Eagles have won four matches in a row. In three of those matches, they’ve exceeded 50 points. I am someone who does not need a lot of reason to get excited, and if I just leave the door open a crack, my optimism comes pouring out.
Every time I am swept up in an optimism flood, I get worried. Are these wins progress, or just a nice blip? All of the matches, after all, have been against sides that are lower in the World Rugby rankings. On the other hand, they played these same nations last year, though, and were not able to execute this well.
Before the 2017 Americas Rugby Championship, there were some aspects of the Eagles' play that looked especially important. These aspects might help figure out how optimistic fans can be. Here is a look at what has happened through the first four rounds of the ARC.
The USA forwards are performing well at the set pieces. From 53 lineouts, USA won 48, which is just over 90%. From 26 scrums, USA won 25. The only scrum not won was a free kick conceded against Canada. There is not too much fault to find there.
USA has scored 25 tries through four matches. Yowza. That is more than they scored in all five matches last year. Here is the most important detail: more tries came from turnovers (seven) than lineouts (six).
The Eagles have looked to play with width and pace, and scoring from turnovers suggests that the squad possess the skills necessary to succeed with this approach. Attacking from turnovers, quick taps, and possession that comes from being kicked to is something that is more dynamic and less predictable than attacking from lineouts. There is nothing wrong with scoring tries from lineouts, but in matches against opponent over whom the Eagles ought to have an edge in skills—Brazil, Chile, and even Uruguay—being able to score from non-rehearsed moves is a good sign.
In 2016, USA won more penalties than conceded, and the trend is continuing in 2017. In these ARC matches, the Eagles are again committing fewer penalties than they are winning—winning 50 and committing 45.
In terms of turning penalties into point, the target for teams in the ARC is two points per penalty won in the attacking half. Through the first four rounds, the Eagles have just reached the two-point return threshold. This return is in spite of a few missed penalty goals that ought to have been made.
The other thing of note is how the Eagles seem to be doing better in terms of territory. I write “seem” because this is an anecdotal observation with no data. During the November matches, the ball seemed to be flying over the heads and hands of the USA back three at every turn. During the ARC, this is simply not happening.
Maybe the improved execution in keeping the ball in the “right” areas of the field is about the level of opposition, but, again, the Eagles are performing better than a year ago.