Mathew Brown – The Rugby Channel Column
UNITED STATES V IRELAND!
The long wait is almost over, the Emirates Airline Summer Series is nearly here! And with a subscription to The Rugby Channel you’ll get a front row seat to the matches against both Ireland and Georgia.
Test season is always tremendously fun and exciting and this year it is doubly so because of the nature of the contests on the schedule. The Summer Series starts with a marquee fixture against Ireland – a team that recently ended the 18-match winning streaks of both New Zealand and England – and concludes with a mammoth encounter against rising power Georgia.
After the Summer Series finishes, the intensity will actually go up a notch higher as the United States takes on Canada in a two-match Rugby World Cup Qualifying Series on successive weekends in Hamilton and San Diego.
Plus, as a special added treat, The Rugby Channel will bring you the Women’s National Team squaring off against the WPL All-Stars following the second men’s qualifier at Torero Stadium!
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, it’s time to focus on the absolutely mouth-watering clash versus the Men in Green at Red Bull Arena.
UNITED STATES V IRELAND – Sunday, June 11 at 5:00 AM ET
Ireland last played the United States in 2013 in Houston and barely escaped with their perfect record against the USA intact by downing the Eagles 15 – 12. The same circumstances that contributed to the closeness of that match will also be in effect this time around, namely that a large number of Ireland’s stars are currently on Tour with the British & Irish Lions.
In 2013 nine of Ireland’s best players went to Australia and in 2017 eleven are in New Zealand. This presents a substantial opportunity for the Eagles to get their first ever win against Ireland after nine straight losses dating back to 1989.
Don’t think for a minute though that the Irish team donning the shamrock emblazoned jerseys in New Jersey will be a pushover. Talent still abounds in the travelling squad with most of the players having been battle hardened for Munster, Leinster, Ulster, and Connacht in the Guinness Pro12 and in the European Champions and Challenge Cups.
Test veterans Cian Healy, Devin Toner, Keith Earls, Paddy Jackson, and Simon Zebo are mixed with rising stars such as Josh van der Flier, Gary Ringrose, Luke McGrath, and Niall Scannell. The difference is that these guys haven’t spent much time playing together and that could make them vulnerable to an upset.
The Eagles are coming off their first Americas Rugby Championship title, earned by beating Uruguay, Brazil, Chile, and Canada, then staging an amazing comeback to draw with the Argentina XV and take the crown.
Their play under Coach John Mitchell has improved steadily since he took over and his imminent departure will probably spur his charges to send him to Pretoria on a high note at the end of this four-week stretch. Mitchell’s record of seven wins, five losses, and two draws is a positive one for the United States and I’m sure he’d love to end his tenure by pulling off a major upset that would rank as the greatest win ever in Eagles history.
Realistically though, the goal has to be to use the Ireland and Georgia matches to get ready for the vital qualifying tests against Canada. Which means that the Eagles might not start their strongest side first up against Ireland and instead use that match to build towards cementing a place in Japan in 2019.
Doing so would aid this Eagles team in their overall development as they have a good mix of younger and older players who can become a cohesive unit going forward to the next World Cup.
Regardless of the lineup of either side at Red Bull Arena, there is going to be a huge amount of passion displayed by the on-field participants and the fans in attendance. In Chicago, Ireland were the darlings of the crowd as they succeeded in securing an historic win against the mighty All Blacks. In New Jersey, there will definitely be a sizable Irish contingent rooting on their favorites but I’m expecting a boisterous pro-Eagles fan base to dominate the proceedings.
2017 USA RUGBY EMIRATES AIRLINE CLUB NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS
Last weekend in Glendale, Colorado the ten most competitive club sides in America went at it head-to-head over two days to determine champions in five different divisions. If you want to catch highlights of all the action from Rugbytown USA, check out TRC Report #54. Or you can watch each one of the matches in their entirety with The Rugby Channel’s VOD feature.
The first final late on Saturday afternoon featured teams that had both previously won Division II titles. This time out they were vying to be the top side in Women’s Division I and it was a smashing affair with lots of scoring, physical play, and rampant displays of athleticism.
With the score tied at 10-all in the first half, the Venom got a yellow card and the match turned sharply in the Gladiatrix’s favor. Raleigh never got fully back into the match after going down three tries but they also never gave in and played hard throughout.
Life West was thoroughly impressive from the opening kickoff to the final whistle and could possibly be headed for a long run of domination in this division.
This Men’s Division I title match had a little bit of everything and the outcome was in doubt until the very end, exactly what you want to see with a championship on the line. The Huns were able to score last and take the title but it could easily have gone the other way but for a break here or there.
Final MVP Hanco Germishuys had a stunner of a match for Austin and showed why he was such a coveted player by them. His physicality for eighty minutes was decisive and his ability to smash through tackles opened up numerous opportunities for any teammate that followed him around the pitch.
In the early going this Men’s Division III final looked like it was going to be a one-sided blowout as St. Louis seemingly scored at will to take a 15-0 lead. But despite twice going down to 14 men, the Bucks fought back and shut off the Royals scoring chances.
Eventually Bremer County was overwhelmed by St. Louis but kept fighting even after trailing 29-7 and at least made the scoreline respectable at the end.
All of the teams involved in the National Championships had great support in Glendale but the Bucks fans stood out for their passionate encouragement of the squad. That level of excitement from the faithful really lets you know just how important these chances to bring home hardware are to players and fans alike.
For sheer tension and drama, the Women’s Division II final was right up there with the Men’s D1 tilt. Milwaukee dominated early, San Francisco responded and took the lead, Milwaukee got back in front, then held on with a major defensive effort after halftime.
It doesn’t happen very often that one player scores all the points for a team in a title match but inside center Abigail Williams did exactly that for the Scylla. Her two tries were both created by extremely powerful running and her two penalties provided just enough of a margin to let her side celebrate at the end of the eighty-minute contest.
The weekend ended with the Men’s Division II tilt and it was Life University that took home the last trophy on offer. With a team made up of youngsters and veterans, the Running Eagles ran in a total of eight five pointers and allowed just three, two of which came late in the form of consolation tries.
Life’s superior fitness was definitely a factor on a warm Sunday in Glendale, where even well-conditioned teams sometimes struggle with the altitude and temperature.
This is always a great weekend for USA Rugby as they showcase the depth of rugby talent in the United States and the depth of commitment that mostly amateur players have for their clubs and their teammates. Just to get to this stage is an enormous achievement by these teams, involving lots of travel, multiple playoff matches, and considerable financial expense.
If you’ve been waiting for a specific reason to subscribe to The Rugby Channel, don’t delay any further or you’ll miss possibly the most entertaining part of the year. Catching the Eagles in action is a necessity for American rugby fans, so Subscribe Now and watch the United States square off against a European power, a country looking to get into the top ten worldwide, and play a two-match series against our neighbors to the north to clinch a spot in Pool C in 2019.