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In the end, they just won.
The Eagles haven’t done that much in their Rugby World Cup history, but this time, they were the better team, and while they might not have won by the margin they should have, they won.
They won because they converted on one key try-scoring opportunity. They won because they had an excellent lineout, and John van der Giessen made several monstrous jumps to steal Russia’s throws.
They won because the forwards battled for another sterling 80 minutes, because Chris Wyles was brilliant in almost every aspect, and because sometimes committing a penalty is the right thing to do.
And of course it could have been much more. Chris Wyles missed three penalty goals and a drop goal attempt. Twice his kicks were swept away by a rough and fickle wind. Everyone on the Eagles thought one of those kicks was going over, but at the last second the wind blew the ball into the post. His drop goal, too, looked good to go before the wind took it.
Andrew Suniula’s rambling run through the Russian line saw him pulled down perhaps a foot before the line. All that relatively bad luck could have resulted in another 13 points for the Eagles, and 26-6 would have been a much more just result.
“I’m delighted with the victory,” said USA Head Coach Eddie O’Sullivan. “It was a tough game, which we expected. I think the conditions didn’t suit either team, but I think it was who made the best of it. I think we dominated the game; our set piece was much better. Our lineout was excellent, but to be fair to Russia we just couldn’t shake them off and I think they defended really well. We had the chance to finish them off but we didn’t.”
O’Sulilvan said he wasn’t frustrated with the lack of scoring, although he would have liked a two-score cushion over the Russians.
“We didn’t get frustrated because if you get frustrated you try to force things that weren’t really on,” he said. “They’ve got fantastic speed out wide and if you make a mistake and turn the ball over they can go 80 meters. We were constantly aware that we had to keep our patience and not get frustrated, and I think we did that really well. It was not going to be a night for fingertip rugby, it was going to be a night for grinding it out.”