Mathew Brown – The Rugby Channel Column
UNITED STATES V GEORGIA!
The Emirates Airline Summer Series continues this week as the United States hosts Georgia on Saturday, June 17th at 7:00 PM ET at Fifth Third Bank Stadium in Kennesaw Georgia. This promises to be an outstanding match between competitive teams and the only way you can watch it LIVE is to Subscribe Now to The Rugby Channel for less than a buck a week.
If you haven’t had a chance to see the United States versus Ireland test yet, give it a look on VOD or watch all the highlights on TRC Report #55.
An initial look at the scoreline from Saturday’s match between the USA and Ireland would give the impression that this was a blowout victory for the visitors where the home side put up little opposition. If you actually watch the match though, you’ll see that this is simply not the case.
The Eagles did some things well, showed improvement in certain areas, and also displayed facets of their game where they absolutely need to get better.
First let’s look at the relative strength of the sides involved.
With eleven starters away on Lions duty in New Zealand, Ireland was obviously a much different squad from the one that has beaten New Zealand and England in the last year. But even with a reduced level of overall talent, Ireland fielded a team that contained experienced internationals like Keith Earls, Cian Healy, and Devin Toner, plus future stars like Garry Ringrose, Rory and Niall Scannell, and Jacob Stockdale.
The majority of Ireland’s travelling party were from Leinster and Munster, teams that led the Guinness Pro12 all year long and both also had semifinal appearances in the European Cup.
The United States put out a quality team to face them but I doubt that it could be considered as their best test side. John Mitchell has a responsibility to get the Eagles qualified for the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan and the way to do that is to use the Summer Series to give guys a chance to get themselves picked for the two qualifiers against Canada.
The United States played well in the lineout, winning most of their own ball and forcing Ireland into mistakes that resulted in turnovers. The value of a competent lineout cannot be overestimated in international rugby and it was a huge positive to see the USA perform well in this area.
The Eagles were also pretty decent at building phases and advancing the ball upfield. There was nothing fancy about their long stretches of possession but they did gain territory and occasionally forced Ireland onto the back foot defensively. Where they struggled a bit was in capitalizing on their efforts and turning them into points once they got down near the goalline, partially the result of slower than necessary service from the breakdown.
The USA was generally strong defensively amongst the forwards. In-tight tackling was efficient and even managed to drive back opposing ballcarriers and secure turnovers. Where they had problems was at the back of the scrum and in the backline, especially out wide. Many of the Ireland scores came on long runs that resulted from missed tackles or assignments. This is the area of biggest concern heading into the rest of the test season.
Two more parts of the Eagles’ game that need to get better in a hurry are defending the maul and scrummaging. Ireland of course had superior experience and power up front but Georgia won’t be far behind in their ability. Having frontrowers who are used to the pressure at top level is vital. Ireland’s get their baptisms of fire in the GP12 while Georgia’s receive their stripes mostly in the Top 14 in France. The USA suffers from not having most of their guys face this type of competition regularly.
Overall the Eagles were entertaining to watch, displayed good discipline and composure, and played positive rugby. I’ll be looking for more of the same this weekend against Georgia.
The last time the Eagles played Georgia on home soil was back in June 2012 at Infinity Park in Glendale, Colorado. They ran out to a convincing 36 – 20 win and were clearly the better side on the day. The following year, Georgia beat the USA in Rustavi 25 – 23 in November and the teams have definitely gotten better at different rates since then.
Over the last three seasons in test matches the Eagles are 13 - 18 - 1 and the Lelos are 26 - 12 - 1. The USA is ranked #17 in the world and Georgia is #12.
There are a few reasons why Georgia has passed the USA in development.
First, Georgia has adopted a style of game that fits their athlete profile. They play a forward-oriented, defense-heavy gameplan that complements the natural abilities of the burly forwards they tend to produce in abundance.
Second, most of Georgia’s national team players are plying their trade in France in the Top 14 or Rugby Pro D2, and others are earning a living in the English Premiership. This exposure to top caliber competition on a regular basis and the corresponding high-level coaching skills increases the team’s overall experience and helps build continuity.
Rugby is becoming more and more popular in Georgia as the team rises in the world rankings and they continue to beat Russia at every opportunity. It is the second favorite sport in the country and that means that the Lelos are getting some of the premier athletes in their catchment area to play the game.
Georgia has had enough success recently that they have argued that they should be included in the Six Nations. Their reasoning is that since they keep winning the Rugby Europe Championship on a regular basis (six of the last seven titles) they should have the chance to play Italy in a promotion/relegation system to get into Rugby’s Greatest Championship.
They make some great points but it’s a total fantasy that the Six Nations bosses would dump Italy with a population of 60 million people and take Georgia with just under 4 million. Fun to think about though and I support their effort all the way!
Last weekend Georgia opened their 2017 Americas Tour with a 13 – 0 shutout of Canada in Calgary in wet conditions. The only try came late in the contest and sealed the Georgian win. After they play the United States, Georgia will also meet Argentina. A win over the USA would put them right on track to face the Pumas from a position of confidence and with momentum on their side.
So, what do the Eagles have to do to get a win on Saturday and earn some world rankings points for beating a team above them on the ladder?
They need to front up at scrum and maul time. Getting pushed around by the Lelos is a recipe for disaster. Parity in the set pieces, with perhaps an advantage in the lineouts, will go a long way towards setting the platform to forcefully attack the Georgian line.
They have to be patient and composed in pounding the Georgian defense. If they can show the same continuity they produced for long stretches against Ireland, they will eventually find gaps to run through.
They must tighten up their tackling and out wide defense. Georgia will not have the same strike power as Ireland but they still have plenty of attacking weapons that need to be contained.
They can’t not convert pressure into points. Getting down into the redzone isn’t enough, they have to come away with 3, 5, or 7 when they have done the hard work to create scoring opportunities.
Defeating Georgia would be a really big win for the United States and would absolutely bolster their self-belief heading into the next two weeks of World Cup Qualifiers against Canada. And not just because Georgia beat the Canadians last weekend, but because the Eagles know that the Lelos are a team on the rise and a victory over them would represent a significant step forward in their evolution as a team.
As a rugby fan and an American, it’s always great to see the Eagles play. When they win it’s awesome and when they lose it’s disappointing but it’s definitely a special moment to see them enter the stadium, line up for the anthems, and then dutifully represent the United States on the pitch.
These next three weeks are going to be great. Georgia is a quality opponent that the Eagles have a solid chance of beating and the qualification series versus Canada is sure to produce thrills that only a matchup against our northern neighbors can.
In order to watch all this excitement, you need to Subscribe Now to The Rugby Channel so stop procrastinating, click here, fill out the form, pay the money, and get ready to be entertained by three fantastic Eagles tests over the next three weekends!