If Chris Wyles had made the penalty goal with a minute left, or if the Eagles had not turned the ball over at the end of the game, worked a couple more phases, and kicked a drop goal, the USA would have beaten Canada 14-13, which would have been nice for USA fans, but would have shielded some continuing deficiencies within the team.
Still, it was a better performance by the Eagles. It was not as good a game for Canada, too. But the Eagles dominated possession, and dominated territory. They played a lot of rugby, and defended well enough. They also still lost, mainly because they couldn’t turn pressure into points.
“Definitely mixed feelings after this game,” said USA Head Coach Mike Tolkin. “It was an improvement, but we did lose. We came out with intent – passion, intent, and pride. So that was good. Now we have to do more with the ball we get.”
The team installed a different offensive approach during the last week, and Tolkin said that, given the changes, the team did well. But they turned the ball over at crucial times. They dropped balls, and twice the pass off the top of the lineout was short, forcing the scrumhalf to knock it on (another was missed by Robbie Shaw).
Those lost opportunities hurt in a two-point game. The wrong call on a knock-on when Blaine Scully recovered a kick after Canada’s James Pritchard committed the drop also hurt the Eagles, as they were rolling and were in an excellent position to score.
Later the USA had a penalty five meters from the Canada line. They opted to tap and go, when there wasn’t really any room. In the end they turned the ball over on the tryline – going for points would have been the better option.
“We need to have patience,” said Tolkin. “We could have called for a scrum or gone for points. But whatever we do, we have to keep the ball.”
Tolkin didn’t blame Wyles for missing the kick, saying it was a tough angle, but makeable.
“Wyles is a gamer; he does everything he can to play hard for his country,” said Tolkin.
Wyles played well overall at outside center. His replacement at fullback, Blaine Scully, was quite possibly the best USA player. At prop, Shawn Pittman has one of his best games for the USA; he made some big plays and was strong at the set piece. Luke Hume injected some excitement into the team, and coming off the bench, so did Folau Niua.
Brian Doyle also played a better game this week.
“One of the things about this team is, it’s actually pretty young,” said Tolkin. “Especially on our bench. But we’re in a position now where anyone we bring on from the bench keep us going and the level doesn’t go down. So that’s good. We did improve, but now we have to eliminate the errors.”