Mathew Brown – The Rugby Channel Column
It was a monumental weekend for USA Rugby in San Diego and The Rugby Channel was extremely proud to have brought every second of it to you LIVE!
If you simply couldn’t make it out to a jam-packed Torero Stadium, then having a subscription to The Rugby Channel was the only way for you to get a full and complete look at all of the historic events that occurred on a beautiful Saturday afternoon in Southern California.
If you want to catch up in a hurry on all of the memorable action from the Eagles’ record-breaking win over Canada, the USA Women slugging it out with the WPL All-Stars, and also see the Todd Clever Tribute video, then check out TRC Report #58 for just under twelve minutes of enthralling oval entertainment.
Or you can watch both matches in their entirety and re-live the excitement as it happened. If you haven’t already spent the measly buck a week that’s required to become a subscriber to The Rugby Channel, I suggest you do it right now so that you can enjoy one of the most important and consequential weekends ever for USA Rugby.
It’s hard to overstate just how big a win this was for the United States.
First of all, the USA has now qualified for a spot in Pool C at the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan along with England, France, Argentina, and the as yet to be determined Oceania 2.
This was the very first time since the Rugby World Cup began in 1987 that the Eagles have qualified as the Americas 1 representative, a significant accomplishment that includes funding, scheduling, and prioritization advantages. Sure, it’s a tough Pool but getting in now takes away all sorts of potential challenges.
Right at the top of the list is the avoidance of having to play a home-and-away qualification series against Uruguay, which is what Canada will now have to do in order to become Americas 2 and get a place in Pool D. Los Teros have benefitted greatly from the establishment of the Americas Rugby Championship and are always a tough opponent at home. Not having to worry about this type of risky encounter will surely enhance the USA’s overall World Cup preparations.
Already having locked down a berth in Japan also takes a huge burden off of whomever becomes the next head coach of the Eagles. That person will now be able to concentrate on installing their systems, getting the guys synced and playing together, and building towards performing better and becoming more cohesive every time they take the pitch for the next two years.
In addition to the rewards generated by the win over Canada, the match itself was also historic for the margin of victory. The Eagles previous biggest triumph was by 18 points back in 2015 in Nepean, which they literally doubled this time out!
Probably the most impressive part of the match was right after halftime. The Eagles had allowed some indiscipline into their game just before the break which let Canada narrow the score to 19-9 and put them a man down as Tony Lamborn was sent to the sin bin. The visitors stormed out of the locker room, scored an immediate try, and were threatening to take the lead and shift the momentum entirely.
But the USA responded by playing tough defense, killing the yellow, and then scoring a try of their own to re-take control of the match before running away with it. This is what Eagles fans have been waiting for, a side that digs deep and controls their own destiny even when circumstances are seemingly turning against them.
The Eagles backs played a huge role in the win. Fullback Madison Hughes was strong under the high ball all day, Mike Te’o was solid on the wing, flyhalf AJ MacGinty repeatedly broke the defensive line, winger Ryan Matyas looked dangerous offensively, and scrumhalf Nate Augspurger scored an outstanding try (which is The Rugby Channel’s Try of the Week!).
Early on, the USA pack was generally held at bay by the Maple Leafs but in the second forty they stepped up their effort and did some damage with directed power, especially while mauling. The forwards were at their best when linking with the backs in attack, making the most of the chances that resulted from opportunistic linebreaks and missed tackles.
San Diego was the perfect place to hold this contest. The weather was ideal for rugby, the pitch was in amazing condition, the crowd was large and enthusiastic, and a good time was had by all – except the Canadian team!
One major highlight of the weekend was the Friday night dinner for the US Rugby Hall of Fame. Over 70 former Eagles and another 150+ guests attended to honor the latest round of inductees, including Steve Finkel, Dave Hodges, Tim O’Brien, Candy Orsini, Tommy Smith, Ed Schram Sr., Dr. Lyle Micheli, Jim Russell, Jay Waldron and the 1991 Women’s Rugby World Cup winning team.
Saturday also marked the final international appearance for USA Captain Todd Clever. After 76 caps in an Eagle tenure that began back in 2003, Clever went out on a serious high note in San Diego. Clever has had an illustrious career, finishing as the most capped Eagle of all-time. He has also played for teams in many parts of the world, including New Zealand, South Africa, Japan, and Britain. He retires from test rugby as probably the sport’s best known American.
The Eagles needed a hard-hitting match in their final warmup before the World Cup in August and that’s exactly what they got by facing off against the Women’s Premier League All-Stars. The WPL side was assembled just for this match so they obviously had the disadvantage of not previously playing together but they were mostly veteran performers with lots of experience and definitely provided a competitive challenge for the Eagles.
The scoreline was totally lopsided but the physicality was pretty evenly matched as both teams pounded each other relentlessly for eighty minutes. The All-Stars forced the Eagles into long periods of defending against sustained possession and also made them work hard to maintain their own ball at the breakdown and in the set pieces.
One aspect of the Eagles continuing development that was on full display in San Diego was the progress made by the addition of players to the fifteens squad who are training fulltime for sevens. Immersion in a professional environment has certainly helped those players in strength, stamina, and speed, and probably in attitude as well. The incisive running of Naya Tapper, Kris Thomas, and Cheta Emba accounted for six of the USA’s eight tries on Saturday.
The same element was also in play for the men’s team as guys like Madison Hughes, Ryan Matyas, and Nate Augspurger brought their sevens experience to the fifteens game.
What this indicates for both teams and for rugby in the United States in general is that targeted development works wonders and that with the eventual application of money and programs for the fifteens game as well, there is real hope of improvement in competitiveness and advancement in the world rankings.
Southern California is naturally a hotbed of Sevens rugby and this weekend you’re going to get a glimpse of it in full swing. The Santa Barbara 7s traditionally attracts the best sides from around the Southland as they prepare for a couple of upcoming national qualifiers in subsequent weeks.
Elings Park in Santa Barbara will be the venue for this invitational tourney so expect the weather to be warm and beautiful as the Grunions RFC plays host to some serious sevens talent.
This is the first weekend of The Rugby Channel’s Summer of Sevens where we will also bring you the Sunsplash 7s from Belmont Shore, the Santa Monica 7s, the Singha Sevens from Northampton, the USA Rugby Emirates Airline Club 7s National Championships from Minneapolis, Minnesota at the National Sports Center, and the Rugbytown Sevens from Infinity Park in Glendale, Colorado.
Get ready for some high-flying sevens fun all Summer long!
If you want to watch a bunch of Sevens tournaments over the next couple of months, catch up on all of the Eagles matches in 2017, and peruse our ever-growing VOD archive, then what you need is a subscription to The Rugby Channel which will cost you less than a single dollar per week over the course of an entire year. Subscribe Now and start enjoying your rugby on a daily basis!