|The Eagles playing Canada earlier this summer.|
The first few opening minutes were indicative of how the whole match was to play out. Canada, with a good bit a pressure, earned a penalty that Conor Braid easily converted. U.S. fans were then given momentary false hope as the U.S earned a penalty of their own, which Zach Pangelinan hit to tie the score at three. From then on it was all Canada who enjoyed most of the possession throughout the entire match. Anytime they got the ball they were able to drive deep into U.S. territory. However, almost every time they got close to scoring a try, the U.S. defense either came up big or the Canadians made a mistake. Canada kept pushing and finally added to their total in the 29th minute with another Braid penalty.
The first try of the match came in the 36th minute after Argentinean referee Juan Sylvestre awarded Canada a penalty try. Just a minute earlier Sylvestre sent Taylor Mokate to the sin bin for preventing a try on a Canadian breakaway. While the decision to call the penalty try so early was a little suspect, there was no doubt that the U.S. scrum was under siege and would not hold up under Canadian pressure. After the conversion Canada led 13-3.
It looked like the Eagles might strike back before the half when Dean Gericke, who was one of the better U.S. players of the day, made a deep run into the Canadian half before Canada was penalized for preventing his try scoring opportunity. However, this time Sylvestre elected not to go to his pocket like he did with Mokate. It was just one of several puzzling decisions by the referee—benefitting and hurting both sides. All of Gericke’s great work was for naught however as Pangelinan missed the kick. Pangelinan would miss again just a few minutes later to send the match to halftime. All in all, the Eagles were lucky to be down by only 10 points. Sure they had two makeable penalties, but Canada had several try scoring opportunities that could have seen them with 30 points.
The second half was much like the first in that both teams consistently committed simple errors. Those errors mounted up but it still took 17 minutes for another score. Finally, after pressuring the U.S. for most of the game, Canada picked up their first try of the half. They scored their second only minutes later as the U.S. lost the ball on their own put into the scrum, leading to a Canadian try in the corner and taking their lead to 23-3.
While that would be all the scoring in the match, things began to heat up as each team increased their physicality. There were several quasi-fights that broke out all over the pitch at every dead ball. In the 67th minute a Canadian player was put into the sin bin for tackling Taylor Mokate in the air. Only a few minutes later the U.S. evened the game at 14 men as John Quill was red carded for tackling an opponent by the hair. It was a silly decision on Quill’s part and one that will hurt the team against Uruguay on Friday. Also, if the IRB deems he needs a longer suspension, he could miss the fall tour as well.
Everything the Eagles did poorly against Argentina, they similarly did poorly against Canada. The scrum was absolutely atrocious at times. In addition to simply being overpowered, the scrum was penalized for silly mistakes, costing the team points. Going into the assembly, prop was being targeted as an area to build depth for the Eagles, but after these last two matches, it doesn’t seem that any of the props in this assembly have what it takes to fill in depth on the Eagles.
Similarly, head coach Mike Tolkin was looking for goalkickers. He even went as far to say that goalkicking will get a player his foot in the door. However, after only making two of seven kicks in two matches so far, it doesn’t look like anyone has stepped up at that position either. Gearoid McDonald has distance with his boot but missed all three of this kicks against Argentina. He didn’t even attempt a kick against Canada. Pangelinan has scored all the Selects points at the tournament but missed a gimme last night. Joe Cowley can kick, but he only got a few minutes last night and Shaun Davies hasn’t taken a kick so far.
Even the supposed strengths of the team were missing against Canada. The back-row, which had been so highly thought of heading into the tournament, was simply out-shown by their Canadian counterparts. John Quill earned his red card on a poor decision, and Taylor Mokate is a knock-on machine. Cam Dolan played well but he had to come off with injury. The backline didn’t play well either. The thought heading into the match was that the U.S. backs would have more time with the ball than they had against Argentina. However, it ended up being much of the same with them constantly defending. Gericke, Jack Tracy, and Chris Chapman were the only highlights of the line (and not stellar highlights at that) while the rest of the players struggled.
Defensively the team struggled as well. The defense looked decent against a very strong Jaguars side, but against Canada it looked poor. That’s concerning because Canada was supposed to be more on par with the Selects, so to be beaten so severely should sound alarm bells. What should throw up even more alarms is the bad discipline the team played with. It wasn’t just bad decisions here or there, it was also getting caught up in Canada’s antics. The fact is that almost every team the Eagles will play against has more experience and a bit more savvy. It is extremely important for these players to know that they can’t get caught up in small petty things.
Credit should be given to Canada. They played organized and with more purpose. They looked like veterans compared to a young American team, even though the age difference between the two was not that wide. The organization comes from playing in the Canadian Rugby Championship, as well as in well-organized leagues. As it stands, Americans can only look on jealously at the structure Canada has built.
After two games, it seems that only four players could possibly step onto the Eagles and contribute: Davies, Chapman, Dolan, and Asbun. Despite his team crumbling around him, Davies had a strong night. He did his best to organize the team, was vocal, and was excellent in his distribution. Every time he puts on a U.S. shirt he looks more and more like Mike Petri’s eventual replacement. Dolan was incredibly active until he was hurt. You can tell that he plays with passion and intelligence. This was exemplified last night when he saved the ball from going out of bounds on a kick-off through pure effort. While the rest of his teammates had given up on the ball, he went out and saved it. Chapman and Asbun have been just alright, but have shown enough to fulfill roles on the Eagles. Asbun’s scrumming will definitely need improvement but his hooking abilities have been acceptable. If he continues to get time at the position he should become better. Chapman was intelligent in his runs and overall play last night. He has a good frame and could be in consideration for the fall. And while he might not make the fall tour, Eric Duechle came into the match last night as a sub and was very positive. It will be interesting to see how he does against Uruguay.
The Selects will have one more match, against Uruguay, to fix their mistakes and show their quality. They’ll need a win, otherwise the alarm bells should ring even louder.