This summer, the USA has struggled against Canada. The men’s 7s team lost a heart-breaker at the Rugby World Cup Sevens; the Women Junior All Americans dropped two games to Canada’s U20s at their Nations Cup; and 10 points have separated the USA Men from Canada in their two losses since May. The losing streak ended yesterday during the senior women’s Nations Cup, as the Eagles defeated Canada 29-17 to stay undefeated after two rounds.
The victory came five days (a day longer due to a tornado warning and hail storm on Saturday) after the USA’s 35-22 win over South Africa. Both outcomes spoke to different aspects of the Americans’ game.
“Canada is always a tough test for us, and we talked about this being an opportunity to see how good we can be and for us to get truly tested,” USA Women coach Pete Steinberg said. “South Africa is a strong side, as they showed against England [in their 18-17 loss]. They play an unstructured game, so it was quite difficult for us to see how our systems work. So against Canada, we wanted to see how our offensive and defensive systems worked, and I think they worked really well. We’re on our journey, and it’s a strong journey, but we still feel we have a lot of work to do.”
Yesterday’s win began with getting the right team on the field. The forwards abound with veteran talent, and leaders like captain Shaina Turley, Lynelle Kugler and Jamie Burke really drive the physicality of the game. Impressed by their performances against South Africa, Steinberg felt newcomers Hope Rogers and Carmen Farmer earned another start against Canada.
“Hope is an Under-20 player who’s really come on in the last year,” Steinberg said of the Penn State prop who also toured England during last month’s U20 Nations Cup. “And Carmen played her first game at second row probably two months ago. She was a wing for Severn River, picked up the game at 29, and is a former varsity softball player out of Virginia Tech. Her development in the last two months has been phenomenal. She just gets better and better. And her athleticism – she had that 40-meter break.”
Fullback Christy Rinngenberg took over vice captain duties while Ashley Kmiecik took a brief hiatus from the assembly. The wing’s absence opened up a spot for USA 7s resident Nathalie Marchino, who made the best of her run on the field with a try against the Canadians. Returners Kimber Rozier and Emilie Bydwell also represented the Olympic Training Center crew, as did nearby No. 8 Jill Potter. But Steinberg insisted that the backline wasn’t compiled with an eye toward getting the 7s professionals playing together.
“There was nothing intentional about that,” Steinberg said. “When the 7s players have come in, they’ve integrated really well.
“We struggled a little bit in the midfield defense with Sylvia Braaten and Emilie Bydwell in the first game,” Steinberg clarified his focus on the backs. “We thought about making a change, but we thought they deserved a chance to play together again. And they did a really great job of shutting down Canada’s big fast players.”
Containing line breaks was just one indicator of improvement, but Steinberg explained that measuring structures’ success is a more involved process.
“We actually do a lot of measurements,” Steinberg said. “We can look at Canada’s attack: I think they had the ball maybe four times when they went more than four phases. So for a team to have the ball that long and not score, it suggests a pretty good defense. For us, we only went past four phases once, which means that generally we were able to find try-scoring opportunities fairly quickly. We really felt that our attack – especially in the first half – we were able to play quickly, and when we play quickly, we put a lot of pressure on Canada. The Canadian side is a very good attacking side, and we’re not going to hold them defensively for the whole game. But we only gave up three tries – preventing Canada from getting a bonus point – and two of those tries were from penalties we gave away at the lineout. One try was from general play, and we’re pretty happy with that.”
To contrast, Steinberg pointed out some areas of concern. Both sides incurred their share of penalties, as the USA got into trouble at the tackle contest, which resulted in a yellow card and eventual Canada try. The USA also struggled with their scrum platform, which affected their ability to launch on offense.
“It was difficult for the teams to understand what the ref really wanted, but it evened itself out,” Steinberg said of the penalties. “Our defense is good enough … but something we’re going to work on: When we contest the tackle defensively, we have to make the choice of whether we can be successful or not. We were really pushing to contest Canada at the breakdown, but we didn’t always do that defensively.”
The journey continues against England (1-1) on Wednesday. The Roses have brought a younger side to Greeley, Colo., and have struggled with consistency in their two matches. After losing 29-25 to Canada in their opener, the English surged ahead of South Africa 18-17 for a win yesterday.
“They have the best lineout here,” Steinberg pointed out target areas. “Our lineout is still in development; we still have some work there. It’s going to be the lineout and scrum where we’ll be tested. The England players like to play a dynamic game: They’ll use their forwards on the fringe to go forward and then they’ll look to move it wide, and that’s going to be a real big challenge there. We’re really looking forward to it. Every team here is getting better each game. Every team is in it – even South Africa, if they win their game, could be in the final. The only way we can guarantee that we’re in the final is if we win. Everyone’s going out there to win their next game, and the competition here has been great.”
Heading into the third round of competition, teams will diligently manage players’ bodies and recovery. With the round two delay, teams are back to a three-day cycle.
“We’ve been trying to focus on our 92-hour cycle, but we’re actually very used to the 68-hour,” Steinberg said. “We did it during our fall tour, and it’s what happens during our [Top 100 and Top 40] elite camps, so we’re pretty confident. The big focus today will be on recovery.”
Steinberg indicated that we might see some fresh faces on Wednesday, as players like Deven Owsiany and Phoebe Boone look for their first caps, but that the staff hasn’t thought about lineups just yet. Regardless, the USA has built some nice momentum and yesterday’s win against Canada was a highlight of the summer – and hopefully the first of many.