|Photo from the IRB|
First off, it’s tempting to say that the score line was misleading; after all, the Eagles defense played well in the first half and severely limited the Jaguars opportunities. Sure, wet and windy conditions, as well as a narrow pitch, played a factor, but the team did come out organized and put a stop to most of what Argentina had to offer. The back-row was expectedly strong with Cam Dolan showing he has made massive improvements over the last few years and John Quill also playing well. The halfbacks defended well even if they weren’t as effective on the offensive end. Even the backs played well, stopping Argentina from breaking away on several occasions.
On the other hand, the score line is not misleading in that it accurately portrays the dominance that Argentina had in many aspects of the game, as well as the simple errors the U.S. continually made. Argentina scored their last try as the U.S. was trying to take a quick lineout. An Argentinean player anticipated it, stole the ball, and ran in for the try. There were several other times during the match when a U.S. player was unaware tactically what they should do at the moment. It led to several unforced penalties and turnovers.
In many ways it was a game of naïve U.S. players trying to do too much, while on the other side, intelligent veterans who knew when to make plays. It’s exactly this kind of contradiction that makes the match so hard to analyze. Another example is the scrum. The Selects were thoroughly dominated in the scrum, and it would have been even worse if Argentina didn’t commit so many penalties for wanting to strike early. However, after the match head coach Mike Tolkin said there were things he was pleased with about the scrum. How can that be? How can a team get beaten so badly in one aspect of the game but then also have that element be considered something not too bad?
The answer lies in the stage of development between the U.S. and Argentina. As we mentioned in our match preview, 16 of the 26 players on the roster played in the Vodacom Cup with the Pampas XV. Some of them have previously been professionals overseas. For Argentina, because they don’t have a professional league, their development is taking players that don’t have a contract in Europe and getting them ready to make the move, or to fill in for the Pumas when needed. For the U.S., development is about getting players more experience, especially at a high level. It’s about working on the basic aspect of the game, like scrimmaging, like kicking. It’s about getting their defensive shape set and making smart decisions.
As such, what would be a successful match for Argentina might not even come close to what would make a successful match for the United States. If you are just going off score line and result, the U.S. didn’t get done what they wanted to accomplish. However, if you are judging the match off improving in areas the team wanted to improve upon, there were certainly some results. For example, the lineouts were fantastic once again and young players showed great tenacity on defense. It’s all about perspective when judging the match.
The development disparity can be frustrating for fans as well. For as much as the Selects were beaten in several areas of the game, they also held their own in others. What if the Selects, or even the Eagles for that matter, had as much time together as the Jaguars? The Jaguars played eight matches in the Vodacom Cup and then three matches in the CONSUR ‘A’ tournament. Additionally, they helped the Pumas get ready for their initial The Rugby Championship season. This year the Eagles will only play six matches total! It’s frustrating because fans feel that if the U.S. had just as much time and resources, they could be better than Argentina. It might take awhile, but it can be done.
Overall, the match should be judged on what the Eagles expected of themselves during the match and not a direct comparison to Argentina. It would be unfair for both teams. The match was good for the Eagles in that it helped them see parts of their game they need to improve and what parts worked. The ultimate judgment of this team will take place after they play both Canada and Uruguay.
Now, with that bit of analysis and qualifying out of the way, let’s look at some things the team did well, and didn’t do well last Friday.
Defense: As we touched on earlier, the team had a pretty decent defensive effort. Most of Argentina’s points didn’t come from breaking though the Eagles defense, they came from the Eagles mental mistakes on offense. Overall, they were organized and effective at making the right tackles.
The Backs: With the forwards as the focus of the match, the backs had to settle for playing defense. They did that well and were alright going forward. Miles Craigwell looked to be extremely active and Chris Chapman had good flashes as well.
Lineouts: Over the last few years the U.S. has really been known for their lineout abilities and that continued last Friday. The locks were both good in the air, and Derek Asbun had some good throws.
Scrum: The U.S. was simply bullied in this aspect of the match. The true measure of whether their scrum is decent will come against Canada next Tuesday.
Intelligence: As players become too worried about trying to make a name for themselves, or were unprepared for the pace of the international game, they lost their focus and committed too many errors. Often those errors led directly to points for Argentina.
Goalkicking: It might be a little harsh to say that goalkicking was bad, but anytime you miss three penalties it can’t be good. Gearoid McDonald has a strong boot on him and all three of his kicks barely missed. The talent is there and if his nerves go away, he could be an important player for the Eagles. However, the fact is he missed all of his kicks.