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The United States lost to Ireland by three, and at least 6 Irish points were a direct result of American penalties at the scrum.
“It’s tough operating that way because immediately you’re either three points down on the board or you’re 30-40 meters downfield. Not the way we wanted to start. We’ll have to look at that aspect,” said USA head coach Mike Tolkin, who didn’t directly accuse referee Francisco Pestrana of being unfair, but said he’s scrutinize the film closely.
“I thought there were a couple [of scrums] we were judged harshly, for sure, and like I said, we’ll look at it and make sure that’s right, and do what we need to do in regards to that. But I don’t want to say anything in terms of a gut feeling now without looking at that again.”
One thing the Irish and the Americans agreed on was the oddity of Pestrana’s outlook on the scrum setup, which pitted the two packs very close to each other prior to engagement.
“It was just an odd setup. I’ve never had to deal with that before – they were lining us up, we were touching shoulders, so that’s something that needs to be addressed, but nonetheless we need to get better at it,” USA hooker Chris Biller said. Biller, significantly shorter than props Eric Fry and Shawn Pittman, struggled to get comfortable under Pestrana’s watch.
“It was a different type of interpretation from the ref. Not saying it was wrong, but they packed it a bit closer, so it was a little bit different to what they were used to,” said Irish coach Les Kiss. “Being a Southern Hemisphere ref, I think, just made it a little bit different for our guys there, but I thought they adapted well to it.”
This game marks the second in a row in front of a sellout crowd at BBVA Compass Stadium where the scrum, and the referee’s penchant for penalizing the USA in the scrum, against a Tier One team is one of the game’s major story lines. The Eagles were hard done by referee Jerome Garces in the Italy game last year, and by the gamesmanship of Italian prop Martin Castrogiovanni.
While it’s fair to say Ireland targeted the scrum as a place of American weakness heading into the game, it’s unclear whether there was any intentionally cynical play on Ireland’s behalf.
“We absolutely believed that we could lay a platform with our scrum,” said Kiss. “Tonight it served us well. It got us a lot of points.”