Mathew Brown – The Rugby Channel Column
CANADA V UNITED STATES!
Over the next two weeks the United States has a chance to directly qualify for Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan by beating our closest rival, Canada. Matches don’t get a whole lot bigger or more consequential than these.
If you want to watch this absolutely massive home and away qualification series LIVE from start to finish, then all you have to do is become a subscriber to The Rugby Channel, which will cost you less than a single dollar per week!
Don’t wait another minute, Subscribe Now and get ready for the biggest couple of weeks in years for Eagles rugby.
And that’s just the beginning of what’s on offer this weekend on The Rugby Channel. We’ll also bring you LIVE coverage of Samoa v Wales, Fiji v Scotland, and both days of the last tournament on the 2017 HSBC Women’s Sevens Series schedule from Clermont-Ferrand, France.
To get you prepped for all the action at the end of the week, take a look at TRC Report #56 which has highlights from Fiji v Italy and USA v Georgia, plus a look back at the last time the United States and Canada met, in the 2017 Americas Rugby Championship.
Now, let’s get right to the thrilling tests from last week.
The Eagles could’ve and should’ve won this match. Yes, their scrum got smashed, overpowered, and repeatedly penalized. Yes, AJ MacGinty had his worst night ever in USA colors. Yes, they trailed in the penalty count by a huge margin and couldn’t seem to hang onto the ball with any regularity. But despite all that, they gutted it out in the second half and were threatening the Georgian tryline as the match ran into fulltime.
There’s no shame in getting hammered by the Georgian scrum as many higher ranked teams can attest to after years of painful encounters. What was impressive though, was that the Eagles didn’t let it demoralize them and still found a way to score tries in the second forty and were on the verge of adding the game winner when time expired.
All rugby players, no matter how good, are going to have unexplainable off nights and Saturday was MacGinty’s. Whether it was playing out of position at inside center, the humid conditions, or some other unknown factor, AJ looked totally out of sorts. And yet, he continued to play hard and had a hand in the Eagles two tries that brought them close to victory.
The one aspect of the Eagles play in Kennesaw that was more than somewhat baffling was all the aimless kicking. Hardly ever was there a reasonably close chaser and most of the kicks served primarily to give away hard-earned possession. Trying to beat the Georgian’s at their own game seemed like a misguided way to secure a win.
All in all, the two matches against Ireland and Georgia will likely prove to be solid preparation for the series against the Canadians. The Eagles have now been tested with fast and dangerous outside backs and by a dominating set of forwards. Canada will be good in both areas for sure but nowhere near as outstanding in either.
Full credit to Georgia. They battled the heat and humidity, stuck to their gameplan, capitalized on opportunities, tackled like demons for eighty minutes, and fought hard until the very end.
Their scrum was powerful and destructive and proved to be the deciding factor in the match, as it should be!
The one thing that struck me in listening to the halftime interview with Georgia’s Coach Milton Haig was when he said that basically his squad has been together for four or five years. That means they’ve been learning to play as a team and getting their structures down pat, which was clearly on display when they scrummed, defended, attacked with support, and communicated at the breakdown. Continuity in selection, year after year, and gaining valuable high-level experience together as a team seems to be working for them.
Fiji’s unbeaten string at home against Italy continued on Saturday but it took a near-miracle at the end to earn their sixth victory against the Azzurri.
Fiji was mostly in control in this test, scoring three tries to take a big lead before letting Italy back into the match with a late try and penalty that brought the sides level with almost no time remaining.
Fiji then went ninety meters from a lineout near their own goal line but knocked the ball on as the clock crossed the eighty minute mark. The referee still had time on his watch though and the Italians were able to win the ensuing scrum. But then, inexplicably, instead of kicking it into touch for the draw, they tried to run it, had it stripped, and Fiji slotted a drop goal to win it!
This match is definitely worth watching in its entirety on VOD and will serve to get you up to speed for this weekend’s enticing clash between Fiji and Scotland.
It has definitely been a mixed year for Wales. They had to play the entire Six Nations without Coach Warren Gatland as he prepared for the Lions Tour and their performance appeared to suffer as a result.
They beat Italy, lost a heartbreaker to England, fell to Scotland, upset Ireland, and dropped a close one to France to finish in fifth place. Still, they had twelve players named to the original Lions squad and a further four have joined the party as injuries have depleted the original tourists.
The Welsh team that beat Tonga 24 – 6 in Auckland last Friday in wet conditions is comprised of a mix of veterans and youth and still plenty talented.
Samoa played New Zealand at Eden Park after the Tonga v Wales match and were predictably beaten 78 – 0 by the defending World Cup Champions as they warmed up for the first Lions Test.
Samoa has beaten Wales four times in their nine meetings, including their most recent in 2012 at the Millennium Stadium.
Fiji just beat Italy in Suva and Scotland defeated Australia in Sydney so this should be an entertaining match to watch on Friday night.
The Fijians have faced the Scots eight times since 1982 and have defeated them just once, in Suva in 1998.
Scotland only had two players selected for Lions duty and have since contributed two more to help the touring party in New Zealand so they are a relatively strong and intact side under new head coach Gregor Townsend.
I’m really looking forward to this one as both countries are confident and playing well, setting the stage for a classic battle.
The way this qualification series works is that the team which scores more points over the next two weeks will earn a spot in Pool C as the Americas 1 representative for the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
The Eagles open on the road in Hamilton, Ontario and they will face a much different side than the one they defeated 51 – 34 back in February in Burnaby during the Americas Rugby Championship. This Canadian side is more experienced and includes many of their overseas professionals who were not called upon earlier this year.
Canada opened their 2017 summer with losses to Georgia and Romania. The USA was defeated by Ireland and Georgia.
Both teams will have gleaned valuable experience from those losses and will put their strongest possible lineup on the pitch at Tim Hortons Field on Saturday. A win is the obvious goal for both sides but keeping a loss close is also critical, in order to make a win on aggregate points still possible in the second leg on July 1st in San Diego.
There has been some talk that maybe a loss in this series wouldn’t be the worst thing for either country with Pool D actually looking like a more comfortable fit in Japan. And while that may be true, it overlooks the fact that in order to qualify the loser will have to play home and away against a determined Uruguay outfit next year and will miss out on the automatic development funding that Tier Two nations receive once they qualify for the World Cup.
The time to win is now, Go Eagles!
As usual, The Rugby Channel will bring you complete LIVE coverage of this event from the very first Pool A match featuring the United States versus Ireland on Saturday morning all the way through to the Cup Final on Sunday.
The USA will also face Japan and New Zealand in pool play at 8:44 AM ET and 11:50 AM ET, respectively.
The Eagles are currently in sixth place on the standings table with 52 competition points and have the opportunity to finish as high as fourth if they put in a good performance and surpass Fiji at 54 and Russia at 58.
This is going to be one of the most important and exciting weekends of the year for USA Rugby so don’t delay, Subscribe Now to The Rugby Channel and watch every single minute of it!