Toronto, Canada - Canada was the better team on the day, and USA Women’s coach Pete Steinberg acknowledged that fact after the Eagles’ 35-17 loss tonight during the second round of the Women’s Nations Cup. But Steinberg also put the game into context, and reminded the American audience that this tournament is about benchmarking.
But how does one rationalize the USA’s near-win against England with the underperformance against a team the Eagles have beaten in the recent past?
“We knew coming into this tournament that we had a really challenging schedule,” Steinberg said. “We had to show everything we had against England in order to compete, and then had two days to recover for Canada. We did the best we could under those circumstances, with very little recovery.”
Canada was arguably in better shape than the USA, coming off a 52-17 win over South Africa on Tuesday. The staff scouted the Eagles well, and the team was prepared for the Eagles’ kicking game, preparation that proved in valuable during the five-try effort. The USA started an almost identical starting lineup (the exception being Devin Keller at hooker) and were well aware of the risk of fatigue. That said, the Canadians took advantage of their scoring opportunities, while the Eagles did not.
“We started sluggish in the first 20 minutes but then finished out the half strongly, down only 14-10 at the break,” Steinberg said. “We struggled in the second half, and our fitness was challenged. But we turned it around at the end, had two or three long breaks that didn’t convert into scores, and were happy with the try at end of the game.”
The USA lineouts and attacking back play were better, and Steinberg was pleased with impact subs. The coach also praised flyhalf Sadie Anderson’s management of the game and her ability to answer the Canada’s physicality. The team, however, struggled defensively. There wasn’t the same intensity at the breakdown as there was against England, and that allowed Canada to produce fast ball and attack quickly.
“We didn’t play our best, and the players know that,” Steinberg said. “They’re competitive athletes, so of course they’re disappointed with the loss. There were times when no one was playing well, and then there were moments when they were playing the best rugby they’ve played yet. We have a lot of learning to do, but these two games are a reflection of where we are in the World Cup cycle. We can compete with the best teams in the world; we’re just not ready to do it consistently.”
The Canada game elucidated some shortcomings in skill, fitness and game understanding, according to Steinberg, but these are age-old challenges that have faced rugby coaches for generations.
“The Nations Cup isn’t about figuring out how to find ways around those constraints,” Steinberg explained. “If the players decide that they want to go on this journey, then they’ll learn that we’re capable of playing at England’s level in three years time. With our limited preparation, and the fact that England’s coming off of 10 test matches, it’s a credit to come to close to beating them.”
With two losses and only one round-robin game left, the USA will play South Africa back to back for third place next Saturday.