Saturday, 11 June 2011 17:59    PDF Print Write e-mail
Malifa Voices Backline Frustration
National Teams - USA Men

Malifa needs to see a few more legal passes. Ian Muir photoThere’s a lot on Nese Malifa’s shoulders these days. The flyhalf is just about the only choice right now for the USA rugby team’s #10 jersey, and will have a lot of work to do to bring the backline together and ensure the Eagles get some more points on the scoreboard.

Coming off the Eagles’ 44-13 loss to Tonga, Malifa said the backs are feeling responsible.

“It was a tough loss,” Malifa told “We all sat down and looked at the positives, but we also looked at the negatives. Every mistake we made is fixable. We talked about depth coming onto attack and counterattack. That’s been a big part of dealing with the forward passes. We were way too flat on attack. We put ourselves in position to force passes, and they were forward.”

Sounding intense and perhaps a little frustrated, Malifa said the difference between the backline doing its job and making some serious mistakes is tiny.

“Everyone has a job to do, everyone knows his assignments,” said the flyhalf. “Everyonre should do his job. We sat down and looked at the game. We talked about lot of combinations, and also looked at the positives. Every mistake we made is fixable. We know we had a lack of communication coming from the inside on defense and that hurt us. We know we need to take space away more on defense, and our one-on-one tackles were pretty poor. There were some good things we did as a team, too.”

The backline spent a lot of time in sessions following the Tonga game on defense and kicking. Defense coach Mike Tolkin stressed keeping low in the tackle and not leaving your feet (many USA players were reaching up to tie up the ball, and found themselves shoved bodily backward by the big Tongan runners), and bringing in a second tackler when needed.

The sessions, Malifa said, have been productive, but the players know they also need to execute on game day.

Wednesday, 08 June 2011 22:43    PDF Print Write e-mail
Answers Elusive for USA Coach
National Teams - USA Men
Photos Ian Muir

It’s been a rare afternoon that the USA has lost quite so badly to a team next to it in the rankings. And while the 44-13 Tonga win over the Eagles was inflated by two soft tries at the end, part of the job is, of course, not to give up soft tries.

The job is also to play together on defense, be aware of your teammates enough to avoid forward passes, to hold onto the ball, and to execute the basics when a try is on offer.

With a few exceptions, the USA did not do this.

“We made a poor start,” said USA Head Coach Eddie O’Sullivan. “We let them jump out ahead of us. We looked pretty ring rusty and really we looked like a team that hadn’t played together in six months.”

O’Sullivan was pleased with the improvement in player in the second quarter of the match, a period that produced one try and almost two more.

“We might have been out ahead if we had not turned the ball over,” said the coach.

 The end of the first half and beginning of the second, in fact, was the killer for the USA. Scott LaValla stretched over to score his second try in two games, but scrumhalf Soane Havea slapped the ball away, forcing a knock-on.

 Then, at the beginning of the second half, Tonga had a scrum near midfield. When the ball came out, Todd Clever was tackled down to the ground without the ball. His job, as openside flanker, is to fill the holes between scrum and flyhalf, and flyhalf and inside center. With Clever not there, Etueni Siua raced right through that hole, and set up a try.

O’Sullivan was annoyed at the non-call, and the momentum shift for Tonga.

“I was disappointed in try in second half because I thought Todd was taken out and it was a bit of a sucker punch for us,” O’Sullivan said.

That try, and the non-try by LaValla were key moments, said O’Sullivan. It could have been 17-13 for the USA, instead of 20-10 Tonga.

But that said, the Eagles did plenty of things all on their own to lose this game. They had good six try-scoring opportunities, and came away with only ten points. They messed up the others thanks to a missed penalty kick, a muffed lineout, a knock-on at the tryline, and a poor maul that resulted in a penalty.

 “We made a lot of unforced errors,” lamented O’Sullivan. “And we really lost our shape at the end and they got two quick tries at the end. So overall I was disappointed in the performance. We made a lot of unforced errors, turnovers, knock-ons, forward passes. I thought we made good tackles in the middle of the field. A lot of the problems we had were our own making. We’re not accurate in our set piece, not accurate in ball in hand, not accurate in defense.”

So, Why?
The reasons why the USA performance was so lacking are varied. O’Sullivan pointed out that he had made 13 changes from the previous game, and the team just wasn’t together enough. It’s worth noting that the two starters who started against the England Saxons, Scott LaValla and Colin Hawley, played quite well.

Captain Todd Clever pointed out that the team had been running two-a-days throughout their assembly, and were tired. O’Sullivan said there is likely something to that.

And observation shows that the backs just weren’t lining up right. They’d line up with a little depth and see balls dropped because the pass led too much. So the receivers would move up, while the passers would slow down to be sure of their passes. Result? Forward pass.

Scoring chances went begging because the lineout was changed from the Saxons game, and the timing was off.

And part of the problem was the tactics. O’Sullivan specifically wanted scrumhalf Tim Usasz to kick, because he wanted to add the scrumhalf kicking to the team’s repertoire of ways to get out of their 22. Usasz kicked, and Tonga rammed that ball right down the USA’s throat.

And then there was the late penalty. The Eagles were right on the Tonga line when they got a penalty under the posts. The score was 30-10, meaning the USA needed to score three times to catch Tonga. O’Sullivan insisted on a penalty kick, reasoning that he wanted to come away with something. Nese Malifa duly slotted the goal, leaving his team behind by 17, meaning they still needed to score three times to catch Tonga.

O’Sullivan also wanted to change his team’s approach a little to keep oppositions guessing. Unfortunately, there is no guesswork involved. To play the Eagles you need to be patient yet physical on defense, and they will turn the ball over. And to score against them you need to flood the outside channels, because it is on the wing that the USA is giving up its tries.

The Good News?
The USA team now has nine days of training in which to change things and adjust. That time should produce a more cohesive team. Right now only a select few – LaValla, Tim Stanfill, Paul Emerick, Colin Hawley – can have been said to have played at all well. Roland Suniula was thrust into the fullback roll and didn’t do badly, and Nic Johnson ensured the scrums weren't worse. Many of the other players were way under their normal performances.

O’Sullivan, for his part, isn’t too concerned (a little, but not a lot).

“This is not the World Cup,” he said. “We are not a finished product. So we still need to try out combinations and strategies. We might try a strategy and see if it works out for us. This is the time to do it.”

At times the USA looked like a team that could cause some damage, but their building blocks were too fragile, their cohesion not there. With three months until the World Cup opens for them, that fragility must go away very soon.

Written by Alex Goff    Wednesday, 08 June 2011 14:03    PDF Print Write e-mail
USA Poor in Loss to Tonga
National Teams - USA Men
Photos Ian Muir

Scott LaValla
todd Clever
Swiryn tackle

Unable to get the ball, keep the ball, or prevent outside backs from penetrating on a regular basis, the USA put in an overall poor performance in losing 44-13 to Tonga Wednesday afternoon at the Esher RFC in Surrey, England.

The loss means the Eagles are 0-2 in their Churchill Cup pool, and they didn’t look like they were good enough to get another victory in the Bowl Final.

Viliami Iongi scored four tries against the Eagles, who just seemed unable to mark him properly, but the story was really the inability of the United States to produce any sort of quick go-forward ball. When they did make breaks, they consistently took far, far, far too long to recycle the ball and get moving again. Their two examples of quick ball produced their lone try, courtesy of Paul Emerick, and a penalty goal.

The Eagles entered the game showing off their brand new kit, which includes a blue V with white stars. They looked a little like longtime motorcycle daredevil Evel Knievel, but their play was not the stuff of prime-time specials.

The USA was also badly hurt by referee Romain Poite, who seemed unable to see red Tongan jerseys coming in from the side, but was happy to penalize the Americans for that very infraction. But in the end, the Yanks had nobody to look at but themselves.

The first movement for the USA produced a knock-on in the backs, Paul Emerick shaking his head at the mistake. And moments later they conceded a penalty that flyhalf Kurt Morath easily kicked.

From the restart Inaki Basauri made a big tackle and Chris Biller did well to steal the ball from the ruck. The Eagles got a penalty, but Nese Malifa missed the kick. The Americans had the ball back from the 22 dropout, but a forward pass from Roland Suniula to Paul Emerick gave away the ball, and the USA hardly saw it for much of the rest of the first half.

After that, the game was a series of USA errors, and Tonga dominating possession. Tonga made gains when they took the ball upfield, often because the USA’s arm tackling was weak, and they they tackled higher for the ball, they did not stop the Tonga runners in their tracks.

For the game, the USA missed 13 tackles and made 15 handling errors. When they had the ball, they gave it back. Even when they didn’t knock it on, they (usually Tim Usasz at the scrumhalf) kicked the ball away to a team that ran the ball extremely well. Even when they made tackles they got into trouble, because poor communication saw some Tonga's tackled in open field by two or three Americans, leaving support runners free and open.

Tonga extended their lead by getting a penalty and going for the lineout. They spun the ball wide to Iongi, and with Kevin Swiryn going for an interception, Iongi had no one to stop him.

Then Todd Clever was penalized right in front of the posts. No problem for Norath, 13-0.

The USA’s efforts to tackle high and rip the ball out finally worked, as Biller tore the ball free and Lou Stanfill set off downfield. He ran 50 meters before wisely taking the tackle. Quick ball allowed Shawn Pittman to take a pass at pace, and while the USA almost lost the ball in the ruck, they were able to send it wide, where a long pass from Malifa to Roland Suniula allowed the fullback to pass to Emerick for the center’s third try in his last three test matches.

After that the Eagles seemed to pick up their game. Their lineout was working relatively well, and with Nic Johnson battling at the back of the scrum to get the ball out and forward, they were surviving in that arena.

They were helped by the fact that Tonga was down to 14 men, as Tonga Lea’Aetoa had been harshly sin-binned for a high tackle.

With time winding down the USA again threatened the Tonga line. Using their forwards they were close on several occasions, and finally lock Scott LaValla, one of the few bright spots for the USA team, surged to the line. LaValla was stretching out to score when a Tonga hand knocked the ball loose. It was a clear knock-on and LaValla was clearly angry he had missed his chance to give the USA the lead.

One wonders how that might have changed the USA confidence. Urged by Head Coach Eddie O’Sullivan before the game to be physical and uncompromising, they hadn’t been yet. In the second half, with Shawn Pittman off with a yellow card, it all began to go sideways.
Iongidid well in support and shrugged away some confused, grasping arms to score and make it 20-13. Marath added a penalty to make it 23-13, and suddenly the Eagles were under pressure.

A penalty for holding on forced by Eric Fry gave the USA a lineout near the Tonga line. But their maul was sloppy and the Americans were called for obstruction. There followed a scrum, and then a penalty for Tonga, and a good scoring opportunity was lost.

Colin Hawley did well to catch a wide kick and fell right to the ground. A Tongan defender fell right on top of him, normally an automatic penalty, but no call and the resulting turnover led to the ball making its way to Iongi on the opposite. Tonga executed a 3-on-2 nicely to put Iongi away, but one wondered where the Eagle communication was to get more bodies on that side.

And the final indignity as the half ticked away. An excellent moved from the Americans, started by Roland Suniula and moved on by Kevin Swiryn, got close to the line. Both Emerick and LaValla were very close, but no try. The Eagles got a penalty, though, and as captain Todd Clever tried to take a tap and get a try, the referee stopped him. Someone, it seemed, had brought the kicking tee onto the field. The decision to go for points was odd, certainly. The USA was right under the posts and a try there could have netted seven, putting the USA within two scores at 30-17. Instead, Malifa easily kicked the penalty to make it 30-13, still three scores out.

It turned out not to matter, as the Americans fell apart.

Iongi blew through tackles on the wing, and then up the middle for his four.  And then Tonga capped it with a try for No. 8 Viliami Ma’Afu, who just had to step over the line to score. Marath’s kicking was excellent, and those tries made it 44-13.

The USA was not helped by referee Poite’s inconsistency around the breakdown, but that was minor. Very poor tackling, very poor defensive alignment, kicking the ball to a team that was running really well, fumbling the ball, and their inability to get some go-forward, recycle quickly, and get go-forward again, were all on them. They missed 13 tackles and made 15 handling errors, and deserved to lose.

There were a few bright spots. Emerick was still their best back, Johnson did all he could to get something out of the scrum, and LaValla was very strong. Their attack was better when Mike Petri was at scrumhalf, but Tim Usasz actually played well and aggressively. His kicking, however, did the USA no good. In the lineout the USA was often effective, but in key lineouts when attacking, they messed up - obstruction in the maul, taking too long to throw the ball in, or missed assignments. 

“Extremely disappointed,” said Clever after the match. “We came out here after another few days of tough training and couldn’t get it together. We stepped up a lot of the time but couldn’t put it together for the full 80 minutes. We’re just not on the same page.”

Clever also said his team was likely tired, having put in two-a-days leading into this match.

“We now have ten days to get the bodies right and hopefully out attitude right as well,” he said of the Bowl Final, set for a week from Saturday.

Tonga 44
Tries: Iongi 4, Ma’Afu
Convs: Marath 5
Pens: Marath 3

USA 13
Tries: Emerick
Convs: Malifa
Pens: Malifa 2

Wednesday, 08 June 2011 12:18    PDF Print Write e-mail
Tonga Leads USA at Half
National Teams - USA Men

Tonga lead the USA 13-10 at halftime of their 2011 Churchill Cup match. For much of the half the USA played quite poorly, and were unable to get or retain much possession.

Flyhalf Kurt Morath kicked an early penalty for Tonga but missed two others. Nese Malifa also missed a penalty kick for the USA.

The USA gave up a ton of silly penalties and were burned for one, was wing Viliami Iongi scored to make it 10-0. Malifa hit a penalty to make it 10-3 and then Morath made it 13-3.

After Tonga prop Tonga Lea'aetoa was harshly yellow-carded for a high tackle, the USA finally got something going. Chris Biller forced a turnover in the tackle allowed Lou Stanfill to go on a big run, and after a couple more phases, Roland Suniula fed Paul Emerick for the try. 

Scott LaValla, easily the best USA player in the first half, almost scored at the end of the half but the ball was knocked out of his hand. LaValla said a bad word in frustration.

At 40 minutes: Tonga 13 USA 10.

Written by RUGBYMag Staff    Wednesday, 08 June 2011 11:26    PDF Print Write e-mail
USA v Tonga Live Online
National Teams - USA Men

Go Here to Watch USA v Tonga online, live, for free


Page 89 of 96