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Great win. In nearly 30 years of playing the Argentines, the Pumas and versions of either the Jaguars or XV, American teams were winless, until the Eagles took down the Argentina XV Saturday at StubHub Center in Carson, Calif. That’s a big deal to be celebrated.
It’s also notable it happened in the first match under new head coach Gary Gold, whose fingerprints were already in the win.
Two years ago, then-new head coach John Mitchell came into his first match under similar circumstances – having not picked the player pool and arrived in country late. Mitch’s team tied the Argies, then considered a good result, and beat rival Canada the following week. It’d also go onto lose to Brazil, in the largest rankings upset ever, and Uruguay. The message is, the job’s not nearly done.
Back to Gold’s fingerprints. He told us before the game two of the areas he felt he could make the most immediate impact were in game management – a.k.a. not play too much from their own end and use the boot to pressure the opposition – and upping their defensive effort. Both of those approaches were obvious to the eye.
Defensively, the Eagles competed the entire width and length of the pitch, never giving up on a play. This was most visible at the end, when Hanco Germishuys finished his tackle on an Argentine ball carrier in goal by swatting the ball out of his hands inches before he touched it down. Germishuys rode that tackle to the last millisecond to make a play.
Earlier in the game, though, the Eagles displayed equal resilience. They were tough to penetrate the whole day. In the middle of the first half, with Titi Lamositele in the bin, the Americans were under a lot of pressure, but managed to hold Argentina to a penalty. They had to stave off another foray with Lamositele still in the bin, and Bryce Campbell came up with a turnover.
Early in the second half, Argentina appeared to score a second try. But in the ruck prior to the would-be scoring play, Nate Brakeley had his hands on the ball and was neck rolled, resulting in the score being called back. Another stand. Then another stop in the 48th minute when Argentina knocked on while on attack.
In the 74th minute, Cam Dolan made a huge hustle play to prevent a try. Argentina made a break, and the 6’6” forward chased from behind, intercepting a pass. The defensive effort was fantastic, especially in the defensive 22, and the Eagles were quick to exit when they turned Argentina over.
Another takeaway was the strength of the scrum. Argentina is widely considered a strong scrummaging nation, and the United States a weak one. Save for a couple of scrums when the Eagles had a forward in the sin bin, their pack generally went forward. It was off a scrum, following a penalty in a scrum, which was preceded by another attacking American scrum, that Tony Lamborn scored his first try.
It was an unusually good platform for the Eagles on that day. It wasn’t lost that the referee was Canada’s Chris Assmus. The USA has fallen prey to its perceived inferiority in the set piece with tier one referees on the job in the past, but not on Saturday with a ref from a tier two nation. Not sure that’s coincidence.
Lastly, it was a full team effort. Sounds corny, sure, but the six subs who came on all made an impact. Shaun Davies provided a spark on offense and made some key tackles. Debutant Dylan Audsley had to play nearly a full game after one of the most malicious, disgusting off-the-ball hits I’ve ever seen sidelined Marcel Brache. Will Hooley slotted two penalties to ice the game. Andrew Durutalo, Ben Landry and James Hilterbrand all put in shifts, too. That’s a good thing.
Perhaps the brightest note was that the Eagles were far from perfect, which means there’s room to improve. Cross kicks went out on the full and didn’t find their targets, there were two sin bins and there could have been a third with an early intentional knock-on that went unpunished. Augspurger’s box kicks were rarely effective. Magie missed a very makeable penalty. Even with those blemishes, the Eagles beat an Argentine side for the first time ever.