The USA Selects team will be licking their wounds and going through recovery Saturday after their 39-3 loss to the Argentina Jaguars – a game where the Americans had some chances to score, and were somewhat unlucky in a few instances, as well.
But the result wasn't entirely unexpected. The Jaguars team was more experienced and more cohesive than the American team, and showed it.
The good news Saturday for the USA is that two players who left the field injured should be OK soon. Taylor Mokate was taken out as a precaution when he injured his ribs, but they seem only to be sore, nothing more. Derek Asbun sprained his ankle. Both are being evaluated, but you could see both back on the field this week.
But there are more pieces to put together than a couple of mildly broken players. One wonders if new prospect Gearoid McDonald’s difficulties kicking for goal hurt his confidence. His booming kicks just wide of the mark looked like they had potential, but he didn't get the ball through on his three penalty attempts, and that contributed to a momentum shift in Argentina's favor in the second 20 minutes.
McDonald's kicking from the hand was good when under defensive pressure, but Head Coach Mike Tolkin wants to control field position with the boot more, and that didn't so much happen. In the second half, the Selects changed kickers – that was the plan all along as Tolkin wanted to see Zach Pangelinan in that role as well.
Points weren’t just left out on the field thank to kicking. The USA had the ball, but struggled to bust through an Argentina team that was right on top of them. The offsides line wasn’t policed especially carefully, but the Jaguars can tackle, too. Tolkin told RUGBYMag.com that the USA team helped Argentina out by being predictable.
“Their commitment to covering the open side left the blind wide open,” Tolkin explained. “We needed to exploit that in the second half and didn't. Also, we used our forward to bash too much. We should have put the ball behind them sometimes and out wide quickly and accurately, and more probing kicks when attacks stalled at midfield were needed to pin them back. We tried to barge through too many phases.”
That’s not just a knee-jerk reaction to the game – Tolkin’s words back up what he’s been saying all along. He wants to take the game to defenses, use the boot to play in the opposing end, and use the talent in all 15.
What the Selects did was go back to a comfort level, which in the end meant trying not to be too selfish. They cut back into traffic, and got painfully slow ball from the rucks. Even when they got that ball, they waited far too long to do something with it. When they attacked as soon as the ball was available, the USA Selects were more successful.
Captain Cam Dolan, who really stepped up in this game, was one player who tried to push the endeavor of the USA attack. But that attitude needed to be a team thing.
The offense picked up when Shaun Davies came on at scrumhalf. Benny Mateialona struggled to get the ball in others’ hands quickly, and his passes weren’t always on the money. Davies is a dangerous runner with quick acceleration. When he started moving the Argentina defenses were worried, and that opened up holes in the first two channels.
The communication between the scrumhalf and flyhalf certainly needed work, as there were opportunities for a few misdirection players between 9 and 10, that didn’t come to fruition.
All of this, now, the USA has basically Monday morning to fix. They won’t fix it all, and will have another challenge Tuesday against a Canada team that was imperfect, but physical and aggressive in beating Uruguay. The USA is easily the least experienced team in the ARC, but they still have the ability to win, and they have the right attitude.
“Everyone played to the end - no quit,” said Tolkin, who used every player except Tim Paulsen and Zach Mizell. “The cover defense was pretty good and kicking chase overall was good. The guys hung tough in scrum against a tough pack.”
And coming off the field, their reaction spoke volumes:
“They were not happy at all about their performance,” said Tolkin, with more than a hint of admiration.