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Friday, October 11, 2013

Selects Fight Hard But Come Up Short To Argentina Jaguars

Considering that the Argentina Jaguars have won the Americas Rugby Championship every year of its existence, the fact that the Eagles Selects lost 27-9 in their ARC opener to the Jaguars isn't particularly exciting. As we wrote in our preview, the real measure of the whether the match would be a success for the Eagles would come in getting a few players to step up and in showing positive signs. Despite the 27-9 scoreline (the match was really closer than that) the Eagles did just that in what could be a tone-setting match for the rest of the tournament. To be sure, it was far from perfect, but there were enough signs that U.S. fans should be optimistic heading into the next match against Canada.

The match didn't start out well for the Eagles as they took on heavy Argentinean pressure. It was extremely apparent that the Jaguars had all played together at some point before in their careers while the U.S. team only had a few days of assembly under the belts. Argentina was able to do pretty much whatever they wanted at the breakdown and put the U.S. on the back foot. However, the Eagles defense stood fairly strong and only conceded a penalty in the first ten minutes. 

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But eventually the Eagles broke. Toby L'Estrange put in a clearing kick that never found touch which allowed Argentina to launch a counterattack. With the U.S. defense all thinking the ball would go back to the middle no one was home allowing Argentina to score easily after a few quick passes. With 12 minutes gone Argentina held a 8-0 lead.

The South Americans would add to their lead in the 20th minute when they launched another counterattack off a U.S. mistake. A few nice passes and a world-class grubber broke the U.S. defense down enough for the try. For the most part that was the story of the match for the Eagles. They would have decent spells of possession but mistakes at key points allowed Argentina to lethally march the ball down the other end of the field.

After the score the U.S. settled down and for the next 20 minutes until halftime they played strong rugby. The forwards in particular had a decent day. They held their own in the scrum, even winning a few battles, and did a good job of holding up the ball carrier. Their work at the breakdown was also good. The front row of Titi Lamositele, Phil Thiel, and Shawn Pittman had a very nice game. Still, the forward pack was led by man-of-the-match Cam Dolan, who was spectacular all night.

The U.S. hard work was rewarded shortly before halftime when Argentina was pinged at the breakdown. Adam Siddall stepped up to bury the kick. For Siddall it was a good opportunity to get points on the board after he missed a very long range attempt earlier i the match. 

The second half got underway with a nightmare start for the Eagles. The U.S. defense was still mentally in the locker room allowing Javier Rojas to score and extremely easy try to put the Jaguars up 20-3. But when it looked like the rout was on the Eagles responded with some good possession. The U.S. consistently put Argentina under pressure in the second leading to one penalty after another. After Argentina was hit with offsides, allowing Siddall to hit his second penalty of the match. With five minutes gone in the half it was Argentina 20-6 Eagles.

The U.S. then increased their lead ten minutes later with another Siddall penalty. Argentina, like the U.S. were in the first part of the first half, were extremely cynical at the breakdown and were lucky not to be hit with a yellow card. Siddall had another chance to put the Eagles closer but his short penalty attempt missed.

Argentina would finally be reduced to 14 men a few minutes later after another penalty with ten minutes to go. With an extra man the U.S. choose to go for the lineout. After taking the lineout the U.S. put in a series of strong pick and go's, with close to 20 phases, but were unable to break down the Jaguars. After trying to push it over straight the U.S. went out wide. That looked to work at first but finally a tired Eagles spilled the ball forward. It was the Eagles best opportunity to make it a closer match.

With the air out from under them the Eagles worked hard but allowed Argentina to put a cap on the match a few minutes later. As they had done all night, Argentina capitalized on a U.S. turnover and broke through the defense to score a try. With the match now 27-9 it was all but over.

The U.S. put in a strong series of attack well after the hooter, but like a broken record, a possible try was ruined with a mistake at the tryline.

Overall their were a lot of positives for the Eagles. Their scrum was okay and their forwards were active on both offense and defense. On attack they looked to move the ball out quickly. More importantly, they moved with purpose and were able to find passes to moving players as opposed to the summer when passes found stagnant players. Defensively they had their mistakes but they also had some gutty defense that kept the match close.

There are certainly areas of improvement for the Eagles. First and foremost is scoring tries. The U.S. could have easily put as many points on the board as Argentina but simple mistakes at the tryline cost them time and time again. It seems to be the same problem for any U.S. team. Somehow they need to learn to get over that mental block. Committing errors at the end of long phases is particularly demoralizing. In a similar vein, kicking needs to improve. Siddall can be forgiven for his long kick, but one of his penalties should have been made. All in all those are points gone missing.

Other areas of improve include the breakdown. Argentina really only sent one player in to contest the ball yet it took a handful of Americans to stop that player from being destructive. Kicking for possession also needs to improve. Getting the ball out the wings, who have a lot of pace, also needs to be worked out.

Full credit to Argentina for being as clinical as they were. Almost every time the U.S. committed an error they turned it into points. They are definitely the class of the tournament. That is what should give the U.S. hope. If they can play like they did today against Canada and Uruguay, they should have a real shot at winning.

Several players to standout include Dolan, Lamositele, Davies, Ed Mills, and Siddall. Dolan was extremely impressive and was the energizer out there. Lamositele had a very strong game and continues to get better match after match. Some of those player might not play against Canada but they have certainly made their case.

Up next for the U.S. is Canada on Wednesday at 11:00 p.m. et/8:00 p.m. pt

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