USA Rugby

USA Eagles Vs. Georgia: Eagles' European Tour Ends In Defeat In Tbilisi

USA Eagles Vs. Georgia: Eagles' European Tour Ends In Defeat In Tbilisi

Georgia defeated the USA in their Summer Nations Series Rugby match, 22-7, as they continue their build up to the Rugby World Cup 2023 in France.

Aug 21, 2023 by Philip Bendon
USA Eagles Vs. Georgia: Eagles' European Tour Ends In Defeat In Tbilisi

What can the United States men’s national rugby team take away from three games in Europe this month?  

Mostly, the road back to being a mainstay at the Rugby World Cup isn’t a leisurely stroll.

Out of the biggest stage in international rugby for the first time in nearly 30 years, the Eagles are picking up the pieces and trying to build a foundation that’ll make them even stronger for both the 2027 edition, and the all-important 2031 RWC, which the United States will host for the sport’s biggest moment in North America. 

In a three-game tour over the past three weekends against the same types of nations (Romania, Portugal and Georgia) that will stand in their way from getting back to the promised land, it showed that the Eagles still have a lot of work to do.  

Still, though the Lelos took down the United States to close out the tour, flashes of positivity and impressive quality still appeared in a highly retooled setup from the one that missed out on RWC qualification several months ago.  

And though the Eagles will return home with a 1-2 record in the first three matches following major heartbreak, the groundwork clearly is being laid, and it is worth peeking in to see what comes of it in the months and years ahead. 

Here’s a look at Georgia’s win over the United States at Mikheil Meskhi Stadium, as the latter continues to prepare for the upcoming Rugby World Cup, while the rebuilding former now heads home to watch the RWC from afar.

Building Blocks 

Likely the toughest matchup of the Eagles’ three in Europe this month, soon-to-be RWC participant Georgia — which picked up two Tier 1 wins in 2022 alone — won in Tbilisi but didn’t run away with the match like Portugal did against the United States the previous weekend.  

The Lelos struck first in the 11th minute via a try in the far corner from winger Akaki Tabutsadze (his 30th for his country at the age of just 26), shortly following a line out, and looked to be running away with the match on home soil following an attacking scrum deep in United States' territory eventually leading to another line out, then a bruising maul that saw hooker Shalva Mamukashvili go over to make the score 12-0 less than a half-hour into the match.  

The Americans weren’t going down quietly, however, and shortly after Georgia’s second try, the Eagles embarked on their best attacking sequence of the match. 

With the Lelos dominant up to that point, and the Eagles struggling to find possession and effective offense, the rapid Christian Dyer found space down the right touchline and saw a sprinting Ruben de Haas to the left of him, successfully offloading to the South Africa-born No. 9 and setting him up for a 31st-minute try.  

The moment came three minutes after the Lelos got their second score, and it gave the United States some life, down 12-7 after Luke Carty’s successful conversion, though it proved to be for nought for the Americans.  

A United States penalty in the Lelos’ 22 before half went nowhere, and with knocks to multiple Eagles — Thomas Tu’avao and Tommaso Boni both had to exit due to injury — Georgian fullback Davit Niniashvili scored a five-pointer in the 46th minute after finding a gap in the American defense and leaping over, getting the Lelos’ advantage back to 12 following fly-half Luka Matkava’s kick.  

Chances were slim for the Eagles from there for much of the rest of the match, with Matkava tacking on a penalty kick later on in the half to add insurance and improve Georgia to 2-0 in its RWC warm-ups with an enticing fixture against Scotland coming next weekend. 

As for the Eagles, an already deflating 2023 without a Rugby World Cup to look forward to got a bit more so in Tbilisi, though not all was hum-drum during the Americans’ European tour. 

Second-Half Slumps 

It was a recurring theme in all three of the Eagles’ recent matches across the pond — flat second halves soured a victory a bit and worsened defeats.  

In the opener of the tour against Romania, the squad — which rocketed out to a 31-0 lead in Bucharest and looked set for utter domination in coach Scott Lawrence’s debut — let in three tries in the final 20 minutes that ultimately didn’t danger the Americans’ victory, but still put a bit of a damper on an otherwise fantastic first fixture of the Lawrence era.  

In the second game against Portugal, the Eagles were right with the Lobos to start the second half, as the United States only found itself down two following a penalty try shortly after the intermission, but Portugal’s 24 unanswered points the rest of the way (which included a disallowed try that would’ve made the eventual 46-20 score even more lopsided) extended Eagle woes against the Lobos after the latter knocked the former out of their final shot at a RWC berth in the Final Qualification Tournament late last year.  

And then against the Lelos, though the American mistakes in the second half were limited, and they did not play a bad final 40 minutes (especially defensively), the attack was just not there when it needed to be, with the Eagles’ fantastic first-half try merely proving to be a flash in the pan in Tbilisi, as Georgia looked precisely like the powerful Tier 2 nation it has molded itself to be over the past year and change.  

Growth will come for the Eagles following so many debutants and fresh ideas tried out under a new coaching regime across the recent three-week sprint, of course, but being clinical and staying dangerous as matches wear on is a way that the U.S. could quickly change its fortunes in preparation for Australia 2027. 

Mixed Bag Abroad 

If you were expecting the United States to become world-beaters overnight following three matches of Lawrence leading the touchline, it’s perhaps time to temper expectations.  

It’ll take time for the former Major League Rugby boss to really get his squad to start cooking as it continually adjusts from the fallout of missing out on the RWC for the first time since 1995, especially as the Eagles in his tenure have still yet to play a match of real meaning, such as in a competition, World Cup qualifying, etc.

But things certainly can be learned from the completed tour, though, and with the demand undoubtedly being to get the Eagles back to the RWC and at the doorstep of the top 10 of the World Rugby Rankings as soon as possible, any additional knowledge, feedback and/or things to grow on is important and critical to the success and sustainment of USA Rugby.  

Additionally, all three matches were on foreign soil, after all, so when the Eagles finally get back to playing games of note in the comfort of the United States following the RWC, it may be a more true indicator of the trajectory the national team is in.

If recurring problems exist with home support around and further time for Lawrence to implement his tactics, squad choices and building of team chemistry, then that might start to be cause for alarm.  

But alas, to put either too little or too much stock in the Americans’ tour this month is misguided — things likely will take months (maybe even years) of on-pitch experience to fully bloom, but what happened in Europe over the past three weekends can’t totally be ignored, either.