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Written By: Adam McQueen
The USA Eagles sit atop of the Americas Rugby Championship standings after dispatching Canada 29-10 in blustery conditions at Papa Murphy’s Park in Sacramento, California on Saturday. Following a cagey opening half, the defending champion Eagles rattled off 15 unanswered points to secure a bonus point win behind the educated boot of fly-half Will Magie and a brace of tries from winger Ryan Matyas.
The historic rivalry between the USA and Canada has become a one-sided affair in recent years – the Eagles' victory marked their seventh consecutive win against their northern counterparts. Although the scoreline painted a picture of American dominance, it was the Eagles’ clinical ability to capitalize on Canadian errors that proved the difference in an otherwise close encounter.
Scrumhalf Nate Augspurger displayed his 7’s acumen early, darting down a gaping blindside to open the scoring. Augspurger, whose national career began with the Eagles' Sevens Program, has transitioned into a quality halfback the in recent years. The Minneapolis native’s ability to deliver clean ball and inject a spark into the attacking tempo has proven to be an integral part of the USA’s recent success.
San Diego Legion winger Ryan Matyas then gashed a scrambling Canadian defensive line, bursting through a gap after the Eagles had swung the ball across the pitch. Two Will Magie conversions later and the Canadians were suddenly thrust into a 14-0 deficit with barely twenty minutes on the clock.
Canada responded with their strongest passage of play in recent memory, despite running into a steady breeze. DTH van der Merwe and Brock Staller each ventured off of their wings in search of work, their probing lines around the peripheries of the breakdown shifted the momentum of the game. Both wingers’ ability to get over the gainline put the Eagles’ defense onto their heels and earned the Canadians clean, quick ball which resulted in a Patrick Parfrey try in the corner off of a simple overlap.
Canadian coach Kingsley Jones will surely show this footage to his players to emphasize their potential if they maintain accuracy in the minute details of the game.
However, the second half was a dominant display by the Eagles as they suffocated Canada with a wave of steady pressure and territorial control. An early Brock Staller penalty brought the score to 14-10, but then the Canadians were then pinned inside their goal line after a relentless barrage of tight running lines led by American loose forwards Cam Dolan and Hanco Germishuys. The 21 year old Germishuys then blew the game wide open, shrugging off three Canadian tacklers and spinning across the try line to extend the Eagles’ lead to 21-10.
Canadian blindside flanker Lucas Rumball noted that the team’s mental lapses to begin the second half were pivotal in Canada’s inability to assert their control in the crucial stages of the game.
“We had some individual errors that put us under the pump more than we need to be. That is what killed us around that point in the game.”
Despite earning a ten minute trip to the sin bin off of a tip tackle in the 66th minute, Dolan was at the heart of the Eagles’ success throughout the match. The former Cardiff Blues 8 man’s ability to get his hands free in contact allowed for timely offloads that continually punctured the Canadian defensive line.
The Canadians were firmly behind the eight ball and needed a near-perfect performance to salvage a victory. However, American fullback Mike Te’o gladly retrieved several errant kicks from the Canadians that failed to relieve pressure and his direct counterattacks marched Canada back towards their goal line.
These moments, as well as striking two kickoffs out on the full, were the small misfires that Canadian coach Kingsley Jones alluded to in his post-game press conference.
“There were moments of the game with bad decisions, soft penalties, and poor kicking accuracy.”
In contrast, the USA’s halfback combination kicked masterfully in the windy conditions. Glendale Raptors’ fly-half Will Magie struck the ball beautifully from the tee and nudged several low trajectory kicks that caused the defensive line to back track, negating the Canadians’ line speed.
The Eagles were also buoyed by the positive impact that their substitutes brought when entering the match. Quality replacements such as Andrew Durutalo and the freshly capped Will Hooley each boast professional experience and tightened the screws in the final twenty minutes to ensure a comfortable victory. Hooley’s first two appearances for the Eagles, including a memorable kicking display to beat Argentina in Round 1, put him in good stead to vie for the starting #10 jersey after incumbent fly-half AJ MacGinty suffered a serious knee injury playing for Sale Sharks earlier this year.
A late try by Ryan Matyas in the left corner punctuated a comprehensive 29-10 victory for the hosts as they look to secure back-to-back Americas Rugby Championship titles.
The USA’s commitment to improve their depth and develop domestic talent across the country has paid dividends throughout their rebound from a disappointing World Cup campaign three years ago.
One look at the Eagles’ roster that took the field on Saturday attests to this developmental commitment – over half of the squad were domestic players contracted to play in the upcoming professional Major League Rugby (MLR) campaign.
In order for Major League Rugby to succeed there must be a deep player pool of quality talent. USA rugby has answered this demand through the introduction of the Olympic Development Academy, as well as their partnership with various independently organized National Development Academies located throughout numerous regions in the United States, creating an infrastructure that can improve players’ skill levels and bridge the gap between domestic and international competition.
The academy framework has outlined a clear set of deliverables: a 10 month program that is predicated on player development, focusing on playing as much rugby as possible, and providing Olympic level strength and conditioning coaching. Athletes that are green in terms of their rugby experience now have a clear pathway towards high level competition.
Establishing a weekly schedule that mimics a professional setup for club-based players who aspire to reach the national level has improved the quality of play at the club level and broadened the talent pool. Players are now able to excel domestically under the tutelage of local academy coaches as well as the national coaching staff. This expanded talent pool makes the existence of a professional league viable.
It is an exciting time for USA Rugby. The dreams for a professional league on North American soil is now a distinct reality that fans and players alike will look forward to this summer. Major League Rugby can now become the carrot at the end of the stick for athletes within regional academies dotted across the USA.
Depending on the success of its inaugural professional campaign, it may not be long before the Eagles’ Squad is comprised entirely of players that ply their trade within the United States.
The Eagles will now aim to build upon their excellent start to the 2018 campaign as they head south to host Chile at Titan Stadium in Fullerton, Texas. Meanwhile, the Canadians return home to take on Brazil at Westhills Stadium in the hope for a positive response after a string of disappointing results.