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Saturday, February 6, 2016

Eagles Draw With Argentina In Thrilling Match

In what is hopefully a positive omen of things to come in 2016 and over the next World Cup cycle the U.S. clicked in several key aspects on their way to a 35-35 draw with an Argentina team that was favored coming into the match. Not showing much of the sluggishness that's expected with a team assembling for the first time in months and integrating new players the Eagles saw excellent play from their forwards, especially in the scrum, and found other pieces throughout their line-up for the next four years. Make no mistake, there is still plenty for the team to work on but given the circumstances it was a solid result.

The expectation was that the Eagles might come out a little slow and show a lack of cohesion on the offensive end but instead the Eagles came out firing and seemed to pick up on the rhythm the team established in 2015.  Just two minutes into the match the Eagles had their first opportunity as Argentina were called for holding on. Fly-half James Bird stepped up to hit the penalty and the Eagles took an early 3-0 lead.

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Bird had a great match all around. He led the attack well, was good with his boot, and didn't disappoint defensively. AJ MacGinty is the Eagles number one fly-half but Bird looks like a player that has the potential to push him in that shirt and to fight for playing time.

Penalties continued to be a problem for Argentina throughout the match. Only two minutes after giving up the first penalty they were on the wrong side of Canadian referee Chris Assmus's whistle. Bird stepped up to hit his second penalty of the match and a 6-0 lead for the Eagles.

Another surprise for the Eagles was the play of their scrum. The team has improved in that department over the last few years and every player on the roster today at prop was at the World Cup. Still, they were coming up against Argentina, a country with one of the best set pieces in the world. Disregarding that reputation the Eagles scrum, led by Eric Fry, was solid all match. Time and time again they came out the winners in the scrum to not only give the U.S. opportunities to score, but to take possession from Argentina.

With more possession the Eagles were able to get their first try. Quick ball from David Tameilau, another debut player who had a fantastic match, found the hands of Niku Kruger, who then quickly passed it out to Taku Ngwenya. The Biarritz wing shook past one tackle and then hugged the touchline before cutting back in for a fantastic try. Suddenly the U.S. were up 13-0 and looking good. Throughout the match Ngwenya looked like a man possessed. He hasn't had the great situation with his club and it looked like he used this match to cast off some of that frustration. No matter what the reason it was vintage Ngwenya.

However, it wasn't all positives for the Eagles. Ngwenya was called for tackling a player in the air and Argentina decided to play quick. That caught the U.S. napping and allowed Argentina to find Tomas Carrio for the first of his two tries. As quick as the Eagles were up 13-0 they were only up 13-7.

Each team traded opportunities over the next few minutes. Blaine Scully looked to have made a break but the ball was spilled forward. Argentina similarly had a breakaway and a sure try that was only stopped by Ngwenya tracking back for the try-saving tackle. Argentina gained a five meter scrum on the play and from that they used their forwards to push captain Rodrigo Baez for the try and a 14-13 lead.

The match then entered an intense phase. Ngwenya was pushed into touch just a few meters short of the line. An Argentina player went to go for the quick lineout but Ngwenya took exception and through the ball back in his face. Handbags ensued but when all was said and done Assmus simply went back for the advantage to the Eagles.

The U.S. then went ahead in the 30th minute when Bird hit his third penalty of the match. That lead didn't last long as Argentina made the simple plays that led to Joaquin Paz scoring. Each team would have a shot at goal to end the half but each team missed. Heading into the break Argentina led 21-16.

Coming out of the break the Eagles pushed hard for a try with a series of mauls. Two times Argentina were called for swimming in from the side. On the third attempt Todd Clever was justly rewarded and the Eagles leveled the match at 21-21.

Argentina dropped what would have been a sure try a few minutes later but they were finally rewarded when Gonzalo Bertranou scored to put Argentina up 28-21. Like how Argentina immediately responded to the U.S. efforts in the first half it was the Eagles turn to do the same. Cam Dolan perfectly read an Argentina pass to pick it off and go in for the score. Just like that, a minute later, things were knotted up at 28-28.

With less than 10 minutes to go in the match the U.S. looked to try and take control. With the U.S. just meters from the line Argentina cynically killed the ball. Assmus sent a player to the bin and just a few phases later Fry scored to give the Eagles a 35-28 lead.

Unfortunately for the Eagles that lead didn't last. Argentina used solid passing and simple possession to put Carrio through for his second try. With three minutes left the match was 35-35. Still, it was far from over. James Bird had a late shot on goal that was off. Argentina had a long attempt themselves that also fell short. In the end the time expired for the draw.

The Eagles attention will now turn to Canada next week. Even with the draw the team will have to have confidence from this result. At the same time they will have to integrate new players after the European-based players return home.



Tries: Ngwenya, Clever, Dolan, Fry
Conversions: Bird (3)
Penalties: Bird (2)


Tries: Carrio (2), Baez, Paz, Bertranou
Conversions: Miotti (5)

Eagles Line-up

Forwards: Eric Fry, Joe Taufete'e, Chris Baumann, Brodie Orth, Greg Peterson, Cam Dolan, Todd Clever, David Tameilau; Backs: Niku Kruger, James Bird, Kingsley McGowan, Lemoto Filikitonga, Chad London, Taku Ngwenya, Blaine Scully; Bench: Mike Sosene-Feagai, Ollie Kilifi, James Hilterbrand, Ben Landry, Alec Gletzer, JP Eloff, Mike Te'o, Jake Anderson

Argentina Line-up

Forwards: Roberto Tajerizo, Santiago Iglesias, Felipe Arregui, Marcos Kremer, Ignacio Larrague, Rodrigo Baez (C), Lautaro Bavaro, Santiago Montagner; Backs: Gonzale Bertranou, Domingo Miotti, Tomas Carrio, Joaquin Paz, Juan Cappiello, Matias Orlando, Ramiro Moyano; Bench: Franco Brarda, Gaspar Baldunciel, Cristian Bartolini, Pedro Ortega, Jose Deheza, Lautaro Bazan Velez, Juan Novillo, Juan Pablo Estelles


  1. Very entertaining game to watch. Both teams were rushing at times, leading to simple mistakes. James Bird did not look out of place at all. If only he could have hit that last penalty. The attack play wasn't great, very little was created off set plays. But that will hopefully get better with more time.

    The forwards were awesome, scrummaging was on point. Only gave away a couple of penalties. Lineouts were solid, leading to a very good rolling maul that was only stopped due to infringements.

    All in all, pretty good effort. Now, we'll really see the depth of the team after the internationals head back home. Really excited to see the younger guys perform.

    I'd like to know the attendance, 5-6 K? Hard to tell though...

  2. The stadium announcer reported the official attendance at just over 10,000 at the end of the match. I think that might have been a little optimistic although the suites seemed to be full so who knows.