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Saturday, November 19, 2016

Recap: Eagles Narrowly Fall To Tonga

Despite playing their best match of their November series the same problems that have haunted the Eagles for years--untimely mental errors and penalties--caught up with the yet again as they fell to Tonga 20-17 in Spain. It was a much better performance from the Eagles in comparison to their play against the Maori All Blacks and Romania but knock-ons in particular killed too many chances that would have overturned the result.

The addition of veterans like Samu Manoa and Cam Dolan certainly helped the side while Marcel Brache was able to overcome an early stretch of nerves to make an impact as well. Again, the result is disappointing but from a long-term perspective if the Eagles can keep and develop the group of players that ran out against Tonga in tact then they may have something come World Cup time.

Just like last week against Romania it was an early stretch that put the Eagles in a hole they could escape from. Tonga had the bulk of the attack early aided by a couple of U.S. penalties. Tonga especially wanted to set the tone at the scrum early trying to get the U.S. into committing multiple infractions. Finally Tonga saw their breakthrough in the 10th minute when from a line out fullback Telusa Veainu finished off the easy sequence for the try. Tane Takulua hit the conversion and Tonga were up 7-0.

Take the jump to read more.

Credit to the U.S. as they were able to slowly find their footing. Using a maul, their most effective tool of the year, they were able to earn a penalty in front of the posts that Will Holder easily hit to give the Eagles a 7-3. Getting those points on the board seemed to energize the team and get them into the match.

Unfortunately it wasn't to last. Seeming from now where Tonga were able to extend their lead to 14-3. Once again from a line out Jack Ram was able to slip past the U.S. defense before finding Fetu'u Vainikolo with the beautiful offload setting him up for the easy score. The U.S. was caught sleeping on the sequence and Tonga made them pay.

Still, the Eagles were able to make their way back into the match. They caught a break when after a TMO review a try was waved off as a Tongan player was ruled to have illegally taken out Chris Baumann. Just a few minutes later the Eagles were able to grab their first try. Thanks to consistent pressure the Eagles pushed their way down the pitch. The Tongan defense held firm until Nate Augspurger made a heads up play to recognize there were no Tongan defenders behind a ruck. He took the ball, jumped past the defense, and then found Martin Iosefo with the offload for the try. Will Holder nailed the conversion and the Eagles were back in it at 14-10. Tonga responded with a penalty just before the half leaving the score 17-10 at the break.

Like they did against Romania the U.S. came out firing in the second half. They were able to ward off an initial Tongan break and then put pressure on themselves. The likes of Cam Dolan and Tony Lamborn each had big runs but arguably one of the brightest moments of the half came from Madison Hughes. After Tonga tried to clear the ball didn't find touch but rather than picking it up Hughes waited for the defense to approach and then cheekily kicked it through. From there the Eagles went through several phases before Joe Taufete'e stretched across for the score. Holder was good on the conversion once again and with 30 minutes to play it was knotted up at 30-30.

The Eagles kept coming. They nearly had two more tries but the first was stopped by a forward pass and the second, a try from Hughes, was called back after Taufete'e was called for obstruction. Those were two big opportunities that the Eagles missed out on but both were the correct calls.

The next scoring from the match came from Tonga as they effectively used substitutes to retake their lead at the scrum and gain a penalty. Takulua connect on his kick (he was perfect on the day) and Tonga held a 20-17 lead with roughly 20 minutes to go.

Substitutes from each side had an impact with Matai Leuta looking especially effective for the Eagles. It looked as if the U.S. would finally have the momentum with ten minutes to go when Sila Puafisi was shown a yellow card for dangerous play but credit to Tonga as they effectively used their scrum to take time off the clock. The U.S. did have one final chance as they earned a turnover with no time left but they weren't able to connect on their passes and Tonga came away with the win.

The November test series ended up being like many of the Eagles past November test series. They didn't get off to a great start but slowly found their footing and by the third match had their best outing of the series. It was unfortunate for the Eagles that they are still left without a complete 80 minute match but the signs of success are their if they can get more first team matches together.


Tries: Veainu, Vainikolo
Conversions: Takulua (2)
Penalties: Takulua (2)


Tries: Iosefo, Taufete'e
Conversions: Holder (2)
Penalties: Holder


  1. Oh the knock on's......they just killed the momentum. And with a man up the last 10 minutes they just kept shooting themselves in the foot. The lack of depth showed as Mitchell had the entire front row play all 80 minutes. Tonga regaining some control was through the scrum against a tired front row. Te'o really added nothing as a sub at flyhalf. There are many positives though. I think if McGinty plays the Eagles win that game. The fitness is there, and there were passages that were just beautiful, long breaks with multiple passes, with multiple Eagles in support. A very effective maul.......but the biggest takeaway for me is still with all the positives, with all the line breaks, when it comes down to that instant decision, on the fly, there is panic and usually the wrong decision. Improvement will only come with high level competition, and where will that come from? They need to get overseas contracts. Taufete'e showed great promise as a prop, looking dangerous in open play and holding his own in the scrum. Iosefo, Letua, big and strong wingers. Brache was the one guy who appeared able to make quick decisions, and guess what, Super Rugby experience. They can only break that threshold by playing in the Pro leagues overseas, not PRO Rugby.

    1. I think Te'o did alright considering he has never played fly-half before

  2. Agreed. While knock ons were a problem, the biggest glaring issue was defense in the 10 channel and giving up scrum penalties. However, did start to see some attacking flair I haven't seen out of an Eagles squad in years, if ever. Tough break for Hughes with that last pass. He clearly knew he blew a potential try, but it's hard to go from sevens to 15s...there's a lot more bodies on the field. If he wants that #15 jersey he really needs to try to land a pro contract in that position, otherwise he won't ever have that last few percent in decision making that makes the difference between a good fullback and a great one.

  3. With all the 7's players on the team there is still the mentality to keep the ball alive with that 50/50 pass. Take the tackle and quick recycle. The scrum held up for most of the game. A tired front row at the end, with Waldren, Blair and McCllelan on the sideline did not help. The kicking is still awful, which hurt with field position. Didn't see much ballcarrying from Manoa or Langilangi, which was surprising. Long way from competing with Tier 1 nations, but getting McGinty back and continuing to develop this group, there is hope to beating the Tier 2 Canada, Tonga, Georgia, Samoa at least.

  4. We are definitely missing MacGinty. He is a very strong #10 defensively and provides a better boot. He started for Sale today, so he is back from injury. Should be back in an Eagles jersey come June. Hope to see him during the ARC for a few matches, but I'm not sure that will happen.

    1. Has the 7s loophole been closed to prevent capped players from switching nations? I sure hope so.

    2. Doubt he switches. If he were going to, he would have already. He's an EU citizen, so he won't have trouble playing in any of the European leagues.

  5. Great that America was watching the Eagles improve today... Oh wait it was on the Rugby Channel and not ESPN, NBC sports, CBS sports or any other mainstream platform. Shame on USA rugby.

  6. Disappointing and frustrating to watch the failed strategy in these November tests. Sick of seeing the Eagles kick away possession, kick for points, and play rugby as if they have achieved competitive parity with these teams.They need to treat every match as if they were the underdog because they are. Stop playing it safe and going with the standard playbook of rugby. Go for the sidelines on the penalty. Go for the try. You're not going to get many opportunities in the red zone and 3 points aren't going to cut it. And even if you don't at least it's exciting. They showed that in the 2nd half. The simple mistakes of drops are inexcusable. And stop box kicking it. Until your scrumhalf can do it, let Holder perform the exit. It's becoming really tough to watch. Thought Mitchell would shake things up Eddie Jones style a la Japan but it looks like he's satisfied with trying to make non All Blacks try to play a style of rugby that doesn't fit the skill set.

    1. There you are, in a nutshell. The US has yet to develop a style of play that fits their talent, and make it consistent. And my Gawd, the knock-ons and woeful kicking. That's the kind of thing that should have been cleaned up long, long ago, and it still plagues the national side. Cripe, my silver-haired club side doesn't give it up like that; it's just painful to watch.

  7. Will Holder can't defend, Teo comes in at 10 instead of coming in at Full back where Huges didn't do well again. Seems Friday is picking his 7's guys even that there are better 15's guys in the squad. Don't think 7's coaches and 15's coaches should be involved with both programs.

  8. I just don't understand the kicking strategy. Our 9s have always been terrible at box kicks. And Holder's tactical kicking is awful. When our 15s get the ball off their kicks, there's no direction to what they're doing. They (Teo, Hughes, Eloff) take a few steps like they're gonna run, then pick their heads up and kick directly to the other team's 15. It's frustrating.

  9. I have to wonder why Ben Cima didn't get a call up. He's at the perfect age to be getting reps. He will only be 22-23 come RWC 2019. He should be in an Eagles Jersey the next 15 years. I hope to see him at #10 in the ARC. Hughes isn't an international level fullback. I think his best option is to play #9. Though, Augspurger is getting better. I think he played his best game yet, with the exception of his box kicks. He looked like a player who can grow into the role.