The USA Women entered the final round of the Nations Cup in first place, 2-0, 10 points in the standings, and a 25-point lead in point differential over third-place England. The Roses, on the other hand, had struggled through the first two rounds, losing to Canada and beating South Africa by one point. All of the positive momentum rested with the USA, but Eagle coach Pete Steinberg reiterated that his team was not looking past England to their first-ever final. He expected the Roses to be the USA’s toughest opponent, and they were.
England won 36-21, and the USA was never really in it. Despite a few instances when England allowed themselves to slip into penalty trouble – and eventually receive a yellow card – the Roses held onto the ball and used their set piece savvy to their advantage.
Steinberg said from the outset that the scrum and lineout were the areas in which the USA was vulnerable. After flyhalf Emily Scott dotted down a breakaway try about 10 minutes in, the English found themselves inside the USA’s 10 meter after a long penalty kick to touch. An English scrum soon followed, and the Roses marched it to the tryline. Captain and No. 8 Sarah Hunter was stopped just short of the line, but Rochelle Clark finished off the effort for the dive-over, and Ceri Large’s two conversions gave England the 14-0 lead after 15 minutes.
The English also used their lineout well, getting a nice drive toward the line when in striking distance. Although the Americans were able to repel the several punches that followed a stalled drive, twice they fell victim to an unguarded weakside player, who made an easy dart into the corner. As for the American lineouts, they were less efficient. A couple of overthrows or an awkward pass to scrumhalf Jossy Tseng killed a couple of good attacking opportunities, and Stacey Bridges was yellow-carded for obstructing the jumper in one crucial lineout. The English scored two tries while the USA was a man-down.
Penalties, too, killed the USA. After a confidence-boosting score, the referee’s arm would soon be back in the air, usually with a breakdown infringement. There were also some silly errors, like clearing kicks in front of the 22 that went straight into touch, or a knock-on from the base of a ruck that was inches from the tryline. Momentum was continually handed back to England.
That said, when the Eagles found their moments, they looked sharp. The best example of which ended in a Stacey Bridges try. With seven minutes left in the first half, Tseng, as she’s wont to do, took a penalty quickly and timed her pass to flyhalf Kimber Rozier – who had a solid day – perfectly. Flanker Lynelle Kugler inserted into the line and then linked up with captain Jill Potter. As the defense converged, the ball then worked wide through Ashley Kmiecik and wing Nathalie Marchino (who scored later in the game). The forwards joined the cause with some good, quick punches, while Tseng and Rozier did well to clean up any bobbled ball. The team was composed and dynamic when given the chance to attack, and it was the most exciting score of the game.
Those moments were few and far between, namely because the USA had little possession. England knew the odds were against them heading into this game, but they stitched themselves together and relied on their strengths to see them through to a victory. The USA left some scoring opportunities on the table – from Molly Kinsella’s held-up try to a questionable penalty kick when the Americans were down 31-8. But it’s not fair to rest the entire tournament outcome on this one game, as the finalists were determined on points differential. Canada’s 53-15 win over South Africa ballooned their point differential to +28, while England finished +12 and the USA +7.
As a result, the USA will play South Africa for third place on Saturday in Glendale, Colo.
Tries: Scott, Clark, Hunter, Croker, Thompson, Burnfield
Cons: Large 3
Tries: Bridges, Marchino, Burke
Pens: Peterson 2