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When the USA Eagles play Uruguay in San Antonio this weekend, it will be the start of year two for both John Mitchell and the Americas Rugby Championship. 2016 was not a great year for the Eagles. If the matches against the New Zealand Maori All Blacks and Argentina XV are included, they won three, lost six, and drew one.
Two important factors to how well the Eagles will do in the 2017 ARC and beyond are how well they manage field position and the quality of goal kicking.
All teams want to “play in the right area of the field,” but the Eagles struggled to do that in November. In particular, the Eagles performed poorly at restarts.
There are lots of things that might happen from a restart, but the general thinking behind kicking into the opponent’s 22 is that the receiving team will kick the ball back. While there are lots of outcomes, a common one is that the team who kicked the restart ends up with a lineout in their attacking half. A lineout 40 meters out--on the 10 meter line--is a good outcome for the team which kicks the restart. It is not ideal; it is not bad--it is good.
My basic assumption was that when a team kicks a restart inside the opponent’s 22, the goal is, roughly, to regain possession 40 meters from the try line. Possession closer than that is a clear “win.” Possession further from that is a “loss.” It is possible that possession is not regained, but territory is won. And it is possible that both possession and territory are lost.
USA lost more of these exchanges than not. While other mistakes in other aspects of the matches cost territory, over the four November matches, this was a clear pattern.
Here are nine restarts from the four matches illustrating the struggle.
The yellow circles are where the kicks were landed or fielded. The arrows represent where the “first” action separate from the restart occurs. Blue indicates the Eagles were in possession; red, the opposition. The action was typically a ruck or a lineout. It a team ran a phase or two of crash runners in order to improve the circumstances for the kick, I treated those actions as an extension of the restart. If the kicking team received a kick in play and returned the kick, I did not note the location of the ball until there was a breakdown or lineout. The kick-exchange was, in this exercise, an extension of the restart.From these nine, the Eagles regained possession only three times, and not once inside 55 meters.
The kicks can be sorted individually by using the “Kick and Result” filter. (Un-select “All” and then you can select an individual kick.)
Here is a map of all of the missed goal kicks from the 10 matches in 2017. Several of these are bad misses.
Here are all of the kicks.
In last year's ARC, the USA goal kickers were collectively well below average, using the analysis of Goalkickers.
Keep an eye on the restarts and potential points grabbed or lost from the tee. Later in the week, there will be more about how the Eagles performed in 2016 and other things to look for during the ARC.