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USA v Canada
The Eagles defended well, despite having a less than top-flight lineup. They gave up one try, on a mistake on a lineout, rather than any defensive deficiencies. However, they also squandered two or three really good try-scoring opportunities. They weren’t helped by the ref in getting quick ball, but were also poor in setting up their attack and in kicking for territory.
USA v Ireland
The USA gave up no tries and defended superbly the whole game. They again fell victim to slow ball in the rucks (refereed by the same man who officiated the Canada game), and had three or four really strong try-scoring opportunities go begging. One of those opportunities should have been a yellow card against Ireland. One was really good cover defense from Ireland. Another was lost due to a dropped ball, and another lost due to a player not using the support he had. The scrum was under pressure constantly, and clearly at times Ireland was in the wrong, but got the call.
Scrum issues/poor scrum reputation
Not Using Support
USA v Tonga
A poor performance by the USA. An assignment error on defense gave up a try, and an ill-advised pass led to an interception for another try. Other issues were the same.
Poor tactical kicking
USA v Fiji
This was a largely inexperienced USA team facing Fiji’s top side. On the plus side, the Eagles finally scored a try.
Referee non-calls lead directly to Fiji tries
USA v Japan
This seemed to be a back-and-forth game, until the scrums started. Japan destroyed the USA scrum, and started getting all the calls their way. The attack was much, much better, but the Americans dropped way too many balls.
So there it is. The USA cannot afford to make mistakes under pressure. They have a poor reputation in the scrum, and aren’t all that good at pack-down time anyway. Not now, when there’s a gray-area call, they don’t get it. The team management has shown referees that a collapsed scrum against Ireland resulted in a USA penalty, but when the scrum collapsed in the Irish 22, it was just a reset.
Something has to be done about policing the scrums properly. It’s possible that the new laws – under which the USA will operate in August and which will likely favor the USA. Preliminary studies have shown the new laws to steady the scrum more, which would be good for everyone.
But the USA guys have to battle a little bit more, too, and one educated observer suggested that maybe they go back to a little old-school approach of policing the bad actors.
In the scrum, though, better performances will engender better calls.
In open play, they have to hold onto the ball, and have to learn that a little short pass before you are tackled is always a good thing. Too often players assume they can run over or around opponents the way they do in club rugby. Doesn’t happen that way.
One other issue that contributes to all of these is depth. Right now there is not enough international depth. Tolkin is working on developing it, and he will also see a few experienced players join the USA squad in August, which is a good thing. But depth only comes with experience and exposure to a high level of play. Hopefully this rough spring, and the ARC later, will help build it.