Tuesday, February 7, 2017

How The U.S. Beat Uruguay

By Derek Catsam

It was uncharacteristically cold and raw when the US Eagles took the field at San Antonio’s Toyota Field to open up their 2017 Americas Rugby Championship campaign against Uruguay. The Eagles came in as the 2016 runners up in the tournament, with Uruguay 4th, but only a point behind the Americans. The Uruguayans defeated the Eagles 29-25 in Montevideo in their matchup in the 2016 tournament, the first Uruguayan victory over the USA since 2002.

The match was the second of this year’s tournament, with Brazil having defeated Chile 17-3 the day before in Sao Paolo. With the Six Nations tournament starting this weekend as well, world rugby has begun to reawaken from its (perhaps too brief at the highest levels of the sport) hibernation.

Early on the Uruguayans applied pressure, reaching the American five-meter line just past the two-minute mark. German Albanell, the Uruguayan flyhalf, made the Americans pay with a converted penalty inside of four minutes. Uruguay got caught for a high tackle a-minute-and-a-half later, and the American flyhalf Ben Cima banged through his long penalty to even the score 3-3.

Take the jump to read more.

The accomplished veteran Todd Clever was sent to the sin bin for naughty behavior, receiving a yellow card 12:24 into the match, leaving the Americans shorthanded for the next ten minutes. The Uruguayans soon made them pay. After the Americans earned a whistle for side entry into a maul, the South Americans kicked to touch inside the 5 meter-line and hooker Fecundo Gattas made the Americans pay with a try near the flag on the left side. Albanell’s conversion gave the Uruguayans a 10-3 lead.

After the Uruguayans were caught offside 18 minutes in, Cima missed a nearly straight-on kick. Four minutes later, from just inside the Uruguayan half, Cima would not commit the same sin, bringing the Americans to 10-6 on a booming penalty kick as Clever re-took to the pitch.

The Americans stole a lineout in 25th minute and then won a scrum from the referee. Nick Civetta followed with a blistering, pounding 10 meter run. He was tackled high, the Americans kicked to touch inside the 22 but the Uruguayans stole possession and the Eagles squandered their best opportunity to cross the try line. They stole another lineout, however, and continued to apply pressure to the Uruguayans, but again for naught. After another Uruguayan failure to release the ball, however, Cima got another shot at a penalty, and his aim was true, bringing the Eagles to within 1, 10-9, in the 31st minute.

On the ensuing kick to the Americans, the Uruguayans stole the ball away with some frisky but illegal play, giving the Americans a scrum on their own 22. They lost possession soon after due to a knock-on, but once again after an infringement the Americans got to scrum, only to kick the ball away from inside their 22. On the ensuing Uruguay lineout Uruguay looked set to gain some territory, but the Eagles stole away a clever chip kick that had danger written all over it only to lose possession and give Uruguay another lineout, which the Americans again stole, garnering a scrum in the process.  But the American front row collapsed and Uruguay won a scrum of their own inside American territory. The Uruguayans responded with a knock on, and a stuttering game continued as the teams kept swapping possession back and forth between the 22s.

The Uruguayans were called for a penalty at the 37-minute mark, and the Eagles kicked to touch inside the enemy 22. The Eagles continued their dominance in the lineouts and inside center Bryce Campbell rewarded the home team with a try after a nifty run and pass from his center mate AJ MacGinty. The Cima conversion gave the Eagles a 16-10 lead.

Just before half there was a disquieting moment when American stalwart Zack Test was carried from the far sideline on a back brace, bringing the match to a long halt ten seconds from the 40-minute mark. JP Elof took test’s place on the left wing

Uruguay used a scrum and some aggressive, driving runs to move the ball down to the 5-meter line. The Uruguayans won a penalty after a high tackle from the Eagles. Albanell kicked from the 22, converting the penalty to bring the Uruguayans to 16-13 and ending the first half.  

The Americans received the kick to start the second half but lost possession soon after, giving Uruguay the ball and a scrummage just outside of the 22, which the visitors promptly squandered. The teams exchanged kicks as both teams continued their first-half pattern of tentative and tenuous possession. Perhaps it was just first-match jitters, but both teams will want to do more with ball in hand going forward.

Four minutes into the half the Americans were whistled for a violation in the scrum, giving Uruguay a chance to kick to touch and take a lineout, which they won about fifteen meters from paydirt. When the Americans entered a maul from the side Uruguay kicked to touch again, giving them another lineout just outside five meters, which they won and drove in for a try. Alejandro Nieto, the Uruguayan captain and number 8 touched the ball down midway between the post and the flag. Albanell’s successful conversion gave Uruguay back the lead, 20-16.

The Americans stole possession after the ensuing kick and showed a little bit of flair to go with more than a little willingness to bash ahead, but an opportunity went wanting when the Eagles got the ball free on the outside only to lose possession out of bounds. Juan Manuel Cat was shown a yellow card for rough play, giving the Eagles ten minutes with a man advantage and a scrum near the Uruguayan 5-meter line. But once again the Americans squandered a real opportunity, failing to release the ball and thus giving Uruguay some breathing room when they were able to kick the ball to touch at midfield. The Uruguayans won the subsequent lineout and the brute force of a rolling maul almost made the Americans pay, but a brilliant run by Bryce Campbell had the fans squealing in delight until the try was called back, leading the throatful cheers to turn into outraged boos. The try off the board, the Eagles faced an even more distasteful fate as Albanell was given a penalty kick, which he converted to give the tourists a 23-16 lead.

Almost immediately after the kick Uruguay failed to release and MacGinty slotted in a penalty to bring the Eagles back to within 4, 23-19.

Poor handling of the subsequent kick gave Uruguay the ball well inside the 22 and a high tackle allowed Albanell another shot at the posts, but he missed, keeping the gap at 4.

A Uruguayan offsides just before 60 minutes gave the Americans a marvelous opportunity to kick the ball to touch and gain possession just outside the 5-meter line. A fantastic cross-field kick from substitute Will Magie into the arms of right wing Blaine Scully provided a highlight reel touch to a day of sometimes-desultory rugby by the Americans. More important, the captain’s try and conversion gave the Eagles a 26-23 lead.

In the 64th minute yet another stolen lineout gave the Americans the ball and they took it with a couple of fantastic long runs before Uruguay was able to steal the ball away and kick to touch. The Americans continued to apply pressure, taking the ball away again, and after a high tackle MacGinty slotted in a penalty on the left from the 22, giving the Eagles a 29-23 lead with just over 14 minutes to play.

Another Uruguay offsides gave the Eagles a chance to kick to touch, and MacGinty pounded the ball inside the 22, effectively turning the field. The US won the lineout and ultimately another penalty from Uruguay. MacGinty kicked again, this time from a about two meters beyond the 22, this time from the right side. He missed, and the gap between the teams remained 6 points.

On the ensuing possession the Americans patiently used phase after phase to work the ball downfield, but their handling ultimately let them down. Uruguay won a scrum and it was their turn to work the ball down the field only to toss a wayward pass that the Eagles intercepted. A USA scrum on the Uruguayan side of midfield led to some lovely, free-flowing play in addition to some good old-fashioned teeth-rattling charges forward, the sort of artistic bludgeoning that makes the sport so compelling. Alas, one careless pass and the Americans gave up possession, but then the Uruguayans were called for offsides and in the 77th minute MacGinty had another shot at a penalty goal from two meters outside of the 22 on the left side of the pitch. It looked good but veered off course just at the end, leaving the Americans to protect the six-point lead for three minutes or so.

A high tackle by the Eagles gave Uruguay a chance to kick to touch from their own side of the field to well inside the 22. By the time they drove the ball to the 5-meter line the clock was past the 80-minute mark. The Americans were able to drive the Uruguayans back and steal possession. A quick kick to touch and the Americans had sealed a quality, if occasionally sloppy, 29-23 victory. The Eagles had lost three in a row and six of seven, but they got off to a good start to their 2017 campaign, and to the Americas Rugby Championship, in San Antonio.

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