The USA Selects led a Glendale Raptors XV only 19-10 at halftime in Wednesday night’s friendly, and one could be forgiven for wondering what the USA team’s problem was.
The Selects team, after all, started only two players who are uncapped against a club team, a good club team, but a club team. It was a little too close for comfort, acknowledged USA Selects captain Scott LaValla, but this was still a group of players that hadn’t played much together, and needed to work to feel comfortable.
Glendale, for their part, did an excellent job at what they’d been asked to do – providing a tough, savvy, opposition that wouldn’t back down. Many times in the first half the Raptors found themselves on their own line and did whatever they could, including a few illegal things, to stop the tries from coming. As this was supposed to be a test for the USA players, handing out yellow cards for repeated infringements would have done nothing for either team. It stayed 15 on 15, and the Selects were asked to figure it out.
“We knew going in we wanted to play our pattern,” said LaValla. “We did at times, but we could have been more clinical. We agreed beforehand to treat it like a test match. But we could have been more organized and if we had found our pattern more the scoreline would have been better.”
The second half, then, was critical.
“The first part of the second half is perhaps the most telling part of any match,” said LaValla, who has captained every team he has played for except the full USA side. “Early on it was about getting points. But as the game wore on you begin to feel the shift in momentum. We came out firing in the second half and scored quickly, and after that settled down.”
With some smart kicking, the USA Select backs were able to make Glendale pay.
“We reached a point when the game opened up and the tries came easily, and that was an indication of the talent we have out wide,” LaValla said.
Up front, the USA Selects had a tough forward pack to deal with. Despite playing against two very tall locks in Casey Rock and the experienced Eagle Alec Parker, the Selects lineout survived quite well.
“They had two very good lineout operators, but we had more options,” said LaValla. “I felt like we pressurized their lineout pretty well.”
In the scrum, Glendale once again opened up the bag of tricks to test the Eagle hopefuls.
“They were more cagey, I’d say,” said LaValla. “We felt we were the stronger but they did give us problems. They tried hard to get a secondary shove on and did catch us sleeping a couple of times.”
But overall for the Selects, a good day. The team played as a team for much of the evening, and for the coaches, that was gratifying.
“A point touched on repeatedly leading up to the game was that selfish play isn’t going to help you,” said LaValla. “We have a pattern we want to run, and if you want to excel individually, the best thing you can do it excel within that framework. Hustle to get our shape in attack. Hustle if we’re close to their line. We were told not to do anything we wouldn’t do Saturday against Canada. That approach made a lot of sense and I think was pretty well understood.”