USA Rugby

United States Vs. Portugal Recap: Eagles Fall Flat, Portugal Roll On

United States Vs. Portugal Recap: Eagles Fall Flat, Portugal Roll On

Portugal defeated the United States 46-20 in their recent Rugby test match. The win was Portugal's second in a row over the USA. Here is a match recap.

Aug 14, 2023 by Philip Bendon
United States Vs. Portugal Recap: Eagles Fall Flat, Portugal Roll On

As the United States men’s national rugby team adjusts to a lot of change in its ranks, there are going to be plenty of growing pains. 

While a lopsided loss at Portugal isn’t ideal from a the their perspective, of course, the Eagles — forced to re-enter a sort of development stage after failing to earn a berth to the 2023 Rugby World Cup — are in a different state than they usually are at this time of the year, so outlooks have to be realistic. 

Still, there were a lot of things in Algarve that could’ve been better. 

Following a solid start to a new age of American rugby on an international stage earlier this month, the United States' loss to the Lobos showed there’s still a long way to go, but an advantage in the Eagles’ favor is that they still have plenty of time to work with. 

All that’s left to do is finish a three-game trip abroad on a high note, improve and continue cohesion, and make the next steps toward building a better future for Eagles rugby 

Here’s a look at the middle match of the United States’ tour of Europe this past weekend, where Portugal ran away with the game late to get a confidence booster ahead of the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

Poor In Portugal 

There’s little way to sugarcoat it: the Eagles frequently looked well behind the pace in the middle match of their European tour in a 46-20 loss, a bit of a deflating result following the strong start to the era of new coach Scott Lawrence with victory away at Romania last weekend. 

It was the most points the Americans have allowed in a match since New Zealand walloped them to the tune of 104 points in October 2021 for the biggest loss in team history, and though the Lobos obviously weren’t at that level of power this weekend, it still was a frustrating result for the visitors — especially considering that Portugal was the team that officially knocked the United States out of qualifying for the Rugby World Cup at the Final Qualification Tournament last November. 

Though the Eagles did strike first in the match through a Luke Carty penalty in the 10th minute, first-half tries from Portugal’s Joris Moura (on his international debut), Rodrigo Marta and Tomas Appleton contributed to the host’s 22-13 halftime advantage, though the United States at least was within striking distance following a Cam Dolan try and two more successful kicks (one conversion, one penalty) from Carty. 

A penalty try a few minutes after the intermission cut the Lobos’ lead to 22-20 and made it appear as if the Americans were on the rise and had the momentum on their side with a temporary man advantage, but 24 unanswered points followed from Portugal in a run that included Marta getting his second try, a penalty try of their own given up by the Americans and the Lobos nearly closing out the match with a spectacular try that was taken back due to a player stepping into touch. 

Portugal is going back to the World Cup for the second time in its history for a reason — a potent attack, as shown by its performance this weekend, is a major reason why — but if the United States wanted to rid itself of a few of the demons from Dubai by at least getting one back over the Lobos ahead of their RWC preparations, it failed to do so. 

Marta’s Moving 

You’re going to want to keep an eye on Marta, who plays at club level for French second-division side US Dax, at the RWC. 

Already Portugal’s all-time tries leader at the age of 23, the winger has an incredible 27 tries in 30 caps for the Lobos and will get to play in his first World Cup for his country in just a few weeks, and his two-try performance against the Eagles perhaps was an indication of what’s to come in Pool C play in France. 

His first try, scored in the 30th minute while the United States held a 13-7 advantage, was the spark behind Portugal’s eventual iron grip on the game for much of the rest of the way.

After Nuno Sousa Guedes burst through the Americans’ defense and saw a sprinting Marta peeling down the left side, he kicked the try-scorer through and gave him enough space to work with past the Eagles’ defense to finish the job and secure five points. 

Then, in the 64th minute, with the Lobos beginning to pull away and make their major second-half charge, Marta embarked on a remarkable solo run on a line break starting from roughly the halfway line, weaving through the final Eagles who stood in his way, to up his team’s lead to 34-20, putting the Eagles in an even deeper hole that only got deeper as the match wore on. 

Routinely capable of turning games upside down on his own accord (he scored four tries in Portugal’s rout of Poland in the Rugby Europe Championship earlier in the year), Marta is a dangerous man and will continue to be, as Portugal looks to play spoiler at the RWC, while teams like the United States are learning the hard way the type of damage he can do on the pitch. 

A Step Backward? 

Is it time for alarm yet if you’re USA Rugby? 

The definitive answer to that after losing to a Portugal side that’s been on a roll for much of the past year is, no, of course not. 

The time for that was the first time the Lobos beat the Eagles in the past eight months, back in November, to lose out on RWC qualification.

Major coaching and personnel changes have occurred since, and the objective now is picking up the pieces and finding new figures to begin preparing for Australia 2027. 

Lawrence’s tenure, for how promising of a start it got off to with the Eagles’ win in Bucharest, is still in its very early days, and perhaps the drubbing in Portugal is a reversion back to reality and tempering expectations until consistent results arrive again with a fresh crop of players. 

Nine new Eagles debuted against Romania, and two more from Major League Rugby — Rugby New York prop Kaleb Geiger and Seattle Seawolves winger Lauina Futi — got their first international caps against Portugal. Expect more squad rotation to come, as Lawrence figures out who and what works and who and what doesn’t, for the long haul. 

The finale of the European tour for the Eagles should be a doozy and a massive test for all of the squad, though, regardless of international experience. A trip to Tbilisi to play another RWC participant in Georgia is on the docket next, coming immediately after the Lelos looked fantastic in their own fixture Saturday against Romania, stomping it 56-6 and handing Romania its largest defeat to a Tier 2 nation in 99 years. 

Getting acclimated, adjusted and being competitive against teams at the caliber of Georgia, Portugal and the like, is going to be critical for the Americans, as they attempt to recover from their RWC qualification nightmare, but if things don’t work right away, panic shouldn’t ensue. 

If they don’t work three or four years from now, when a trip to Australia is on the line? Then there should be some added concern.