The USA Men’s National 15s team took Romania apart 34-3 Saturday in Bucharest, showcasing a flair and open, attacking style that ran the Oaks ragged.
Chris Wyles collected 19 points on the day to take his test match total to 101.
Early on the USA made their intentions clear, as they tested the Romanians sideline to sideline. In the opening minutes they looked impressive, working their way downfield and getting everyone, especially Biarritz star Taku Ngwenya, involved.
But that attack ended on an in-from-the-side penalty, and moments later Romania easily sliced through the USA line, with centers Csaba Gal and Ionel Cazan combined to race all the way down the field. The Eagle cover was there, though, and then the Americans defended their line desperately for a worrying few minutes. Eventually the inevitable penalty put Romania up 3-0, but more to the point, signaled to the USA that they were in a rugby game.
The Eagles responded very well after that, pinning Romania in their end and making the Oaks forwards run by shifting the point of contact around the field. Scrumhalf Mike Petri’s quick service helped, and in addition, they brought Ngwenya in the line all over the field, giving the Romania defense plenty to think about.
That approach began to bear fruit. After a couple of big runs from Todd Clever and Ngwenya, A lovely long pass from flyhalf Toby L’Estrange and an equally good one from Chris Wyles found center Andrew Suniula on the wing. Suniula had Ngwenya with him, as the Oaks defense was painfully aware, but he didn’t need any support and the big Chicago Griffin center powered over in the corner.
Wyles hit the conversion from the sideline and the USA led 7-3. It wasn’t too long until it looked like it would be 12-3. The USA went wide again and Wyles and Ngwenya connected. But Ngwenya had to juggle the pass and even though he managed to gather the ball, he was held up in-goal – no try.
The forwards had their moments, too. Flanker John Quill surprised Romania with a long run. He linked with Scott LaValla, but the Romanian defense just stopped that one from becoming ugly for the hosts.
Still the Americans pressed, and eventually a nifty pass inside from Luke Hume put Paul Emerick right through the line and 22 meters later he was in at the corner. 12-3 USA.
At that point the Eagles realized they could really run on Romania. That, coupled with the fact that they weren’t dropping the ball much, and thus not bogged down in a series of scrums, encouraged them to stretch their legs. Wyles added an easy penalty to make it 15-3 and keep up the pressure. Only silly USA penalties put the Oaks in any sort of attacking position.
In the end, the Eagles ended the half as they began it, in the Romanian 22. This time, though, they got points, as a free kick off a scrum infraction saw Todd Clever tap and run, and quick ball out to Emerick allowed the center to make a break before feeding Wyles, who broke through a rather high tackle to score in the corner. The fullback then belted over the touchline conversion. It was a snappy way to end the half – USA 22 Romania 3.
There was no letup in the second half by the Eagles. If anything, they opened things up even more. An attacking lineout almost saw Lou Stanfill lumber in from 15 meters. He was stopped, but the USA forwards were patient and after several phases setting up the attack, Petri send it wide left and Wyles ghosted in. 27-3 USA.
The big blot on the game was the many incidents of foul play that threatened to bring the game down into a brawl. It never did, and the yellow cards Romania probably deserved never materialized. We did see red, though, as John Quill and Vasile Rus were sent off after they got into a donnybrook that, on camera at least, appeared to involve Rus punching Quill in the face, and both teams rushing to continue the discussion. It was harsh for the USA given what they had tolerated.
Romania had opportunities after that, but seemed intent in baiting the Eagles into losing their composure. A few off-the-ball incidents earned a couple of stern talking-tos from referee Leighton Hodges. More to the point, the Oaks kept losing momentum, at one point seeing a penalty in the USA 22 reversed for foul play. That reversal hurt them greatly, because it set up a USA attack that finally got the ball to Ngwenya with some space. The USA wing toasted the defenders hoping to catch him, and he was in from 50 meters out.
Wyles hit the conversion, putting him above 100 test points with 101, just passing former SFGG star Grant Wells.
At this point USA Head Coach Mike Tolkin rang the changes. Roland Suniula came on for his brother Andrew. Robbie Shaw replaced Petri, and Derek Asbun replaced Chris Biller at hooker. In the past two games, the Eagles had struggled to keep their defensive communication together when making changes. This time, they looked better, keeping their physicality up and making the Oaks work for their territory.
Up by 31 points, the Eagles almost got more as Robbie Shaw pulled something out of his hat. The USA won a scrum under pressure, and Todd Clever was forced to flip a hard ball to Shaw. The scrumhalf danced away from one tackler, found a seam, and was away for a long run. He had LaValla on one side, but opted not to use the lock, choosing instead Paul Emerick on his left. But Emerick had a tackler right on him, and his desperate pass to support fell to Romanian hands. Even worse, Emerick pulled up lame and had to leave the game, bringing Zach Pangelinan on at fullback, and Chris Wyles up to play center.
But the key there was that the USA held it together. They played the game we knew they could, and executed superbly well. They went into hostile territory in Bucharest and torched a very capable Romanian side for five tries. Wyles was brilliant, kicking well and leading the attack. Several other players played well. But the most important news was the team commitment to an exciting game plan. Tolkin said he wanted to get after it, and said he wanted to involve dangerous players like Ngwenya, Hume, and Wyles more, and he did. The result, thanks to a committed performance by the forwards, was one of the USA’s most impressive victories in years.
Tries: Wyles 2, A. Suniula, Emerick, Ngwenya
Convs: Wyles 3
Romania: 1. Petru Tamba, 2. Otar Turashvili, 3. Mihaita Lazar, 4. Cosmin Ratiu, 5. Alin Coste, 6. Vasile Rus, 7. Mihai Macovei (C), 8. Ovidiu Tonita, 9. Florin Surugiu, 10. Andrei Filip, 11. Ionut Botezatu, 12. Csaba Gal, 13. Ionel Cazan, 14. Madalin Lemnaru, 15. Catalin Fercu.
Rezerve: 16. Andrei Radoi, 17. Horatiu Pungea, 18. Vlad Badalicescu, 19. Alexandru Manta, 20. Viorel Lucaci, 21. Grigoras Diaconescu, 22. Ionut Florea, 23. Constantin Gheara.
USA: 1. Shawn Pittman, 2. Chris Biller (Derek Asbun at 60), 3. Eric Fry, 4. Scott Lavalla, 5. Louis Stanfill (Graham Harriman at 75), 6. John Quill, 7. Peter Dahl (Inaki Basauri at 70), 8. Todd Clever (C), 9. Mike Petri (Robbie Shaw at 60), 10. Toby L’Estrange, 11. Luke Hume, 12. Andrew Suniula (Roalnd Suniula at 60), 13. Paul Emerick (Zach Pangelinan at 73), 14. Takudzwa Ngwenya, 15. Chris Wyles.
Rezerve: 16. Derek Asbun, 17. Nick Wallace, 18. Zachary Fenoglio, 19. Graham Harriman, 20. Inaki Basauri, 21. Robbie Shaw, 22. Roland Suniula, 23. Zachary Pangelinan.