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Sunday, September 17, 2017

College All-Americans Fall To Oxford


By Derek Sagehorn

A former College All-American slotted a 70th minute penalty goal for the visiting Oxford Blues in their 20-18 victory over the College All-Americans. Playing as a curtain raiser for the Premiership’s American Series match between Newcastle and Saracens at the Talen Energy Stadium in Chester, Pennsylvania, both teams looked rusty but former USA u20s flyhalf and Oxford captain Conor Kearns proved to be the difference on the day.

Played in September humidity with liberal substitutions, neither side found consistent the attacking rhythm. The mishandling and panicked decision-making in the first quarter may have reflected the single week of assembly for the All-Americans. Oxford fared slightly better and were able to find space on the edge twelve minutes after kick-off. A long pass made good use of Tom Stileman’s width and pace. The wing drew a scramble defense and lobbed inside to Sam Edgerley for the opening score.

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The Americans re-collected themselves and began to string attacking phases together. Peter Malcom and Kevin Sullivan used both slick handling and bosh to put the All-Americans on the front foot. A penalty goal broke the scoring drought for the Americans. Scrumhalf Nick Boyer generated additional momentum with smart play off the base of the ruck. Poor contact skills, however, snuffed out these promising starts.

In the 28th minute, Oxford pressed their passing skill advantage and scrumhalf Edgerley sniped off a big blind. Christian Rodriguez played the long odds and picked a would-be try for Dan Moore for himself—taking the football back 80 meters. The Eagles added to their unconverted try minutes later with a penalty goal, now up 11-7. Flyhalf Conor Kearns sparked a response for Blues as he sliced through a slow interior defense. Three phases the later, the Blues exploited a 3v1 to put Andy Saull into the corner—Blues up 12-11 at half.

Oxford enjoyed dominance at the scrum all day. The pièce de résistance was a pushover try from five meters at the 44th minute. A tough result for the All American pack but the issue transcends American rugby.

The College All-Americans struck back seven minutes last when Zack Young collected his up-and-under on the trot. His dish to support started a chain reaction that ended with a big effort by Matt Jensen to touch down. The All-Americans could not extend their lead, despite several promising excursions from fullback Matt Wilson. The Blues re-gained lead ended ten minutes later after a cynical American fraction in front of the posts. Kearns dutifully put the visitors ahead 20-18 and the Blues held out for an early final whistle.

Given the circumstances and opponents, the College All-Americans acquitted themselves well. The senior Eagles stood out, Peter Malcolm in particular. Matt Wilson and Kevin Sullivan made strong cases for selection to the USA Selects for the Americas Pacific Challenge. The inability, however, of the All-Americans to move the ball beyond the centers or cope with Dan Barley and Alex Hogg’s rush defense is concerning. After having their summer tour to Queensland scrapped as a belt-tightening measure, one hopes the squad gets more time together in 2018.

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