It was simple, straightforward analysis, and easy to agree with.
“Ireland were the better side, and while we’re not happy to come out on the other side of it, I was very pleased with the level of commitment from the guys,” said USA Head Coach Eddie O’Sullivan. “We fought our way through from the first minute to the 81st minute. We gave up points at times but the guys kept coming back.
“In a game where you are on the wrong side of the football and you’re making tackle after tackle and all it takes is for a couple of guys to bail and suddenly the floodgates open. There was times when I thought that maybe it was going to happen but the guys kept digging deeper and deeper.”
That was simply it. Ireland had the majority of ball and territory, and more scoring chances, but the Eagles didn’t give up. They didn’t give up on any one play, and they didn’t give up on the game. They defended their line repeatedly, and turned Ireland away again and again.
In the end, Ireland was the better side, but every USA fan should be proud of what the Eagles accomplished. They played Ireland mano-a-mano, and made it a test match. This was the closest game the USA has ever had against a Tier I nation in a World Cup (previous closes was against England in 2007, 28-10).
It wasn’t pretty, but it had a brutal beauty to it. Every single player, possibly led by captain Todd Clever (15 tackles), acquitted himself well. Several made big plays. Roland Suniula stymied Keith Earls with a rock-hard tackle. Taku Ngwenya made some important defensive players, and Clever was monstrous. The play of the day may well have been scrumhalf Tim Usasz, coming out of nowhere to nab a grubber kick intended for Gordon D’Arcy, and to touch the ball down while an Irish arm whacked him in the head.
The USA didn’t win though, and here are some issues:
“We were under pressure in the set pieces. We lots a lot of the hits in the [scrum]engagement and our lineout misfired badly. But overall I can’t complain. I couldn’t criticize the team for the effort they put in.”
“We gave up ball in the lineouts at crucial times,” added forwards coach David Hodges, who was clearly pleased with the team effort, but also wondering what might have been. “One or two little mistakes led to their tries.”
The United States did win a crucial try late – taking one against the head when they seemed certain to give up a try. More important than that, though, was that the USA turned that steal to their advantage to get out of trouble.
The USA simply didn’t have much ball. When they did have it, they had some promising moves, but little things – a slip here, a drop there – hurt them.
O’Sullivan had installed a few new plays, and the players executed them reasonably well.
“Every team was going to put something new in the World Cup,” he said. “Ireland did a good job of slowing the ball up. It wasn’t the shape I was concerned with, it was the speed of the ball out of the breakdown. I was happy enough; we kept the ball at times, but perhaps not enough.”
The physicality of the game
“There are a lot of tired guys in the locker room,” said O’Sullivan.
“I was very proud of the guys,” added Clever. “We brought the physicality the way we wanted to.We took the emotions and channeled it in the right direction.”
Giving Up Points
Down 3-0 just before halftime, the USA lost a scrum against the head that lead to a try. Later on, when James Paterson kicked a penalty to make it 10-3, the Eagles failed to catch the restart kick, and as a result gave up a try soon after.
“It was a tough one to swallow at halftime,” said O’Sullivan. “I thought we’d go into halftime at 3-0. But we lost a scrum right before that. But we bounced back. We decided to go into the second half playing as physically as we could.”
O’Sullivan hinted that he might have opted to not play Scott LaValla and Pat Danahy because he was saving them for Russia. However, he also held those players out because the back five of the pack was playing extremely well.
Either way, the team appears relatively healthy as it gets ready for Russia in only a few days.
Some are ready now.
“We want to play Russia as soon as possible,” said Mike MacDonald. “We feel we have some momentum. The boys played out of their skins and I think that shows we’re up to the challenge.