The Eagles gave up two tries against Georgia on Saturday in Tbilisi, and the two scores have glaring similarities that the USA team might want to keep in mind against Russia.
We use some screenshots from the TV coverage. Thanks to Georgia TV for those.
Unfair penalty reverses momentum
In both instances, an iffy call from referee Mike Fraser, who did not have a consistent game, changed an attacking position for the USA to a defensive position.
In the first half, Eric Fry was penalized for not rolling away in a ruck, when he was clearly and obviously pinned there by two Georgian players who were not on their feet.
The penalty resulted in a long kick to touch and a lineout for Georgia in the USA half.
In the second half, the USA was attacking, and Fraser made a bad call on a flick pass by Folau Niua. Niua's pass, made as he was hit, was clearly backward, but Fraser called it a knock-on. At the scrum, USA prop Nick Wallace was penalized for pushing early, when, again, the evidence strongly suggests he was being pulled (Georgia did this more than once. The evidence to support the pulling theory include the fact that when the whistle went, Wallace had fallen to his knees, indicating he had no resistance - the Georgian prop David Kubriashvili was backing away).
From that penalty, a long kick gave Georgia a lineout in USA territory.
Both of these calls, but especially the second-half calls, were really damaging. Fraser acted at times as if he's never played rugby himself. He certainly didn't seem to know what can go on in the front row of a scrum.
USA lineout decisions put them at a disadvantage
In both lineouts that led to Georgia tries, the Eagle pack decided to send up two pods to contest the lineout. In the first pod, Phil Thiel and Graham Harriman lifted Samu Manoa, and in the second, Todd Clever and Nick Wallace lifted Cam Dolan.
This plan left only Eric Fry at the back of the scrum, Mike Petri in the hooker's position, and Derek Asbun near the back in the scrumhalf position, free to roam when Georgia won the ball. The plan ensured that the most ferocious and best USA forwards, Samu Manoa and Todd Clever, were busy when the ball was in play.
Ramifications in loose play
As a result, when Georgia popped the ball off the top (and they did so thanks to some really excellent work by their flankers in the air), and attacked in the midfield, the USA was short defenders.
In the first half, a short ball from flyhalf Lasha Khmaladze to wing Tamaz Mchedlidze saw Mchedlidze run right into Adam Siddall. With three Georgians around the ball, Asbun, Siddall (who was basically run over) and Fry all failed to stop Mchedlidze, who fell but wasn't held, and crawled on until Fry finally brought him down well past the gain line.
The USA forwards raced over to help, but Georgia recycled and ran two more phases. Neither got anywhere, with Manoa putting in a trademark tackle.
But at that tackle there was confusion, as forwards and backs clustered around the ruck. That left a huge mismatch out wide, where a long pass set up three backs against Cam Dolan. Strangely, neither Blaine Scully nor Chris Wyles are anywhere nearby.
Clever, among others, can be seen moving to the opposite side before Georgia switches left - probably a reaction to some iffy tackling.
Quick passing, Scully gets there, but because he's late, he commits to tackle Mchedlidze, who is the one guy Dolan has been able to mark. Two players worry about one Georgian, and Mchedlidze passes inside to fullback Merab Kvirikashvili, who scores.
The Eagles just don't defend Georgia's left (USA's right), and that's because they committed so many forwards to jumping in the lineout, those forwards acted as if they had to make up for lost time and being behind the play.
In the second half, the initial Georgia play is similar to that for the first try.
Once again the Eagles devote six players to jumping Manoa and Dolan to try to steal the lineout. Once again, it doesn't work. Flanker and captain Mamuka Gorgodze makes a superb play to catch the ball and drop it down to his scrumhalf.
Once again, a crash through the flyhalf/center channel. The first time, they ran right over Adam Siddall. This time, there's a disparity in the USA defensive line.
Folau Niua and Andrew Suniula are up quickly, and Siddall is not. Asbun races across to take out Khmaladze, the flyhalf, meaning that inside center Merab Sharikadze is Siddall's man. But Siddall is not in position, and Sharikadze runs right through the gap.
Now here's where you can't blame Siddall entirely, because if the Eagles had not jumped two pods in the lineout, someone - Todd Clever or Samu Manoa or Cam Dolan - would have been across to cover that mistake. But no one is there. Sharikadze runs about 20 meters. Luke Hume and Chris Wyles are there, but it's an easy 3-on-2 and the passes put David Kacharava on his way to the trline. Only a desperate tackle by Blaine Scully prevents a try.
Still there's work to do. The USA forwards are trailing the play, and all are stuck on one side of the field. Only Eric Fry and Derek Asbun are on the USA's right side of the ruck. Fry comes in at the pillar, but leaves the goalpost between him and the ruck.
There's room for Sharikadze to pick up and dive over.
So what can we learn from this?
1. While Adam Siddall is a very good tackler, sometimes quick ball movement for a guy new to international play at flyhalf can make life difficult. That's why God invented flankers.
2. Don't send up two jumpers to contest the lineout. Jump at the front, and let at least one of your superstar forwards roam free in defense.
3. Talk on scramble defense. Someone has to be looking at the gaps and getting players to fill them.