Santa Barbara, CA - As USA Women's U20 coach Bryn Chivers prepared players for their match against South Africa, he used lessons learned from the teams' last double-header in forming a game plan.
The junior Eagles bought in and were rewarded with a 27-3 victory to kickstart its Nations Cup campaign yesterday.
"What we remember from 2008 was that they were scavengers for the ball at the breakdown," Chivers said. "They were very ball-centric in hunting for the ball and had come off some rules that were being tested in South Africa that let them use hands in the ruck. So we worked very hard at the breakdown and had players setting up slightly differently than normal."
The USA centered play around the forwards, who sent more bodies into the breakdown in order to retain possession against the scrappy South African forwards. The backs didn't play the expansive game they would have preferred and ran their plays back toward the forwards to prevent any isolation and opportunity for turnover. It was a necessary tactic considering South Africa's superior team speed.
The game plan prevailed, and South Africa's inability to adjust at the breakdown resulted in a number of yellow cards and red card early in the second half. But that red card wasn't necessarily a turning point for the Eagles, who were leading 13-3 at the half. After fullback Amelia Bizer eradicated the Springboks' early 3-0 lead with a penalty kick, scrumhalf Hayley Anderson scored the game's first try, and lock Alycia Washington went over on a lovely rolling maul from a lineout.
"Things were working well at that point," Chivers said at the time of the red card. "We felt good in the game and knew we could run out the eventual winners. We hadn't allowed any major breaks defensively - there were a few that were contained - but we were able to limit the potential for fast breaks from them. There were a few times when they were in our 22 meter and had some penalty opportunities, but nothing that was sustained pressure."
Even though a man-down, South Africa played great defense and held up a number of tries from the USA. Near the 72nd minute, the forwards kept up the pressure before an overload in the backs was realized. The ball shipped out inside center Akalaini Baravilala, who drew in a player and set up outside center Amy Naber for a try that Bizer converted, 20-3. About eight minutes later, sub Brittany Larson finished off a nice forwards series and took the ball the final eight meters for the try. Bizer converted for the 27-3 win.
It was a nice opening performance for the junior Eagles, especially considering that 13 of the 22 players earned their first cap with yesterday's game, but Chivers identified some areas of improvement as he looked ahead to England on Sunday.
"The forwards did not have a perfect game but they managed to settle late and control the game," Chivers said. "They are the most athletic group we've ever had, but we're still talking about locks who are 5'11" and 185 lbs, so they're big women. They very mobile and athletic, and their size is deceiving."
one of those games where exp game might result in more ops for them than us.
"The backs did well but they were playing to a game plan trying hard to stick to it," Chivers continued. "Late in the game we could've moved the ball wide when we had overloads because South Africa was down a player, and we could've exploited the kicking game a little more. We still had situations where we didn't run good lines, and players got themselves in bad body position, but we were lucky enough that it didn't cost us too much at the breakdown. But England will exploit [those mistakes] and we'll be working on that the next couple of days."
In the end, however, the team stuck to a game plan that they knew would work, and the desired end result was achieved. Chivers credited the entire team with the win and praised players who came off the bench for keeping the level of play consistent. Chivers singled out captain and No. 8 Katie Johnson, and locks Washington and Grace Hovde, who had some big runs and played excellent defense. In the backs, Anderson distributed the ball well and the big, strong Baravilala was terribly difficult to take down.
No one's performance surprised Chivers per se, but prop Monica Jackson impressed the coach with her continual improvement. "This team is inexperienced but talented, but Monica Jackson continues to get better and do good work. She was unlucky late in the first half when she went over for what was apparently a held-up try," Chivers said.
The USA did not take the South Africa match lightly, and no player was saved for the England match. Some injuries were incurred earlier during camp, but now everyone's available for selection against England on Sunday. The junior Roses defeated Canada 39-0 in their opening game yesterday.
"There were times in the second half when we exerted a lot of pressure and had opportunities to score," Chivers said, "and we squandered some of those opportunities. We need to tighten it up because we'll have fewer chances against England and we have to take those chances when they arrive."
A win against England or Canada on July 20 would send the USA to the championship on July 23.
Tries: Anderson, Washington, Naber, Larson
Conversions: Bizer 2
USA Women's U20 Roster
1. Dorothy Mittow (Princeton), 2. Jennifer Sandifer (Navy), 3. Monica Jackson (Cougar Women’s Rugby), 4. Alycia Washington (Connecticut), 5. Grace Hovde (Wisconsin – Oshkosh), 6. Mackenzie Lewis (Mesa State College), 7. Amee Svatos (Canby, OR), 8. Kathryn Johnson (Wisconsin - Milwaukee), 9. Haley Anderson (Summit, CO), 10. Miranda Wakimoto (Boston University), 11. Alexandra Brown (Radcliffe), 12. Akalaini Baravilala (Aliamanu Blues), 13. Amy Naber (Arizona), 14. Ashley Okonta (Notre Dame), 15. Amelia Bizer (Woodlands, TX).
Substitutes: 16. Colleen Carey (Colorado), 17. Brittany Larson (Kent, WA), 18. Kathryn Humphreys (Central Washington), 19. Kimberly La Mons (Fallbrook, CA), 20. Kyandrea Mcknight (Central Florida), 21. Joanne Fa'avesi (Sacramento Amazons, CA), 22. Jacie Vonada (South Dakota State).