USA Rugby

USA Rugby Vs. Spain Recap: Eagles Romp To Cap Off 2023 With Silverware

USA Rugby Vs. Spain Recap: Eagles Romp To Cap Off 2023 With Silverware

Captain Nate Brakeley ended his international career on a high note, as the United States captured the La Vila International Rugby Cup, defeating Spain.

Nov 19, 2023 by Briar Napier
USA Rugby Vs. Spain Recap: Eagles Romp To Cap Off 2023 With Silverware

It has not been the most gilded couple of years for USA Rugby, but its men’s national rugby union team at least was able to close 2023 with a finish of which it can be proud.

The Eagles, closing out a dominant showing at the La Vila International Rugby Cup in Spain this past weekend, won both their matches in blowout fashion, turning the lemons of missing out on the 2023 Rugby World Cup into some form of lemonade.

Plenty of new, potential stars burst through the cracks across the pond for the United States, while an important veteran hung up his boots at the tournament’s conclusion. 

A new era in American rugby is underway, and with USA Rugby with nowhere to go but up, the ceilings and heights can be limitless — but only if the Eagles realize how high they really can fly. 

Here’s a look back at the Eagles’ romp over Los Leones on Spanish soil, as the visitors ended their year of play on a high note in Villajoyosa:

Stellar in Spain

Winning the La Vila International Rugby Cup may not stack up as highly to other trophies in the international rugby universe (or, arguably, to even qualifying for a Rugby World Cup), but in a new era of American rugby in which the national side sorely needed some positivity, it at least was a nice pick-me-up and close to the 2023 campaign for the Eagles. 

In a four-team field that did not make it to the World Cup — Canada, Brazil the United States and host Spain — the Americans won the tournament in emphatic fashion by rolling through Brazil in the semifinal round last weekend, then Los Leones on Saturday by a 42-12 margin in the final to bring a piece of rugby silverware back to the United States. 

In the first clash between the United States and Spain at the union level in 20 years, the latter country actually led first through a 15th-minute try from Matt Foulds, who got the breakthrough for Spain following a long downfield kick, going up 7-0 following Inaki Mateu’s conversion. 

Thirteen unanswered points arrived for the Eagles by the halftime siren, however, thanks to a pair of Luke Carty penalties and a Nick McCarthy try just a few minutes before the intermission, making it 13-7 at the break. 

The Eagles never lost that lead and added four more tries, plus scored the match’s final 22 points after a Spanish try in the 48th minute, to emerge victorious without much fuss the rest of the way in Villajoyosa. 

Overall, it was a step forward for interim coach Scott Lawrence (brought on after ex-coach Gary Gold stepped down following the Eagles’ failure to qualify for the recently completed World Cup) and the Americans as a whole, with plenty of players on the squad making their international debuts and showing out across both World Cup warm-ups and the La Vila International Rugby Cup.

Mano’s the Man

Speaking of those debuting, Utah Warriors winger Joe Mano has made the absolute most out of his first impression with the Eagles, and arguably, no player on the squad made more headway in Spain than he did over the past two weeks. 

The American Samoa-born 28-year-old has been part of Lawrence’s plan to bring younger and/or fresh faces to the national team, especially from Major League Rugby, and Mano was among the best-attacking standouts in the MLR a season ago with Utah, as he tied for a league-best 14 tries on the season. 

Those numbers were enough for Lawrence to call him up to the squad headed for the La Vila International Rugby Cup, and through two matches in his international career, Mano already has emerged as a proven, lethal scoring threat. 

Against Brazil in the Americans’ dominant 48-3 victory, Mano had a brace inside 10 minutes — including a try with his first touch — and a hat trick by the end of the first half as the main driver behind the eight-try haul against the Tupis. 

Earning the start in the final against Spain, Mano once again got onto the scoresheet (once officially, twice technically) by being part of the Eagles’ second-half surge that allowed them to pull away from Los Leones for good. 

First, his attempted pick up of a loose ball for a try was obstructed by Spain’s Facundo Dominguez, with the United States earning a penalty try because of it; then, with the man advantage, Mano officially got his fourth try in two tests when he burst down the wing following a Spanish turnover shortly after. 

He’ll look to utilize his breakout tournament for further success with the Warriors and, potentially, more international caps, if he continues to perform at such a high level.

A Fond Farewell

Saturday’s final was a temporary end to rugby for most on the Eagles’ roster, who now will head back to their clubs, but for Nate Brakeley, it will be the last time he’s expected to put on a national team kit. 

Brakeley, who through USA Rugby officially announced his retirement from international rugby last week, played his final match for the Eagles against Spain, while wearing the captain’s armband for his country for the first time, as well. 

The Rugby New York (MLR) lock officially finished his test career with 34 caps and a decorated career with his home country; he both won the Americas Rugby Championship and participated in the 2019 Rugby World Cup, as the Massachusetts-born 34-year-old was able to wrap up his time with the national side on a high note, captaining his nation to a trophy on foreign soil. 

His departure likely will be one of several high-profile ones over the next few years, as the team attempts to rebound from missing out on World Cup qualification and prepares for the fast-approaching cycle to make it to the 2027 World Cup in Australia. 

In quotes to FloRugby this past week, Brakeley believed the future of USA Rugby is in good hands, as the Eagles look ahead and to bounce back from heartbreak. 

“Part of the Eagle ethos of ‘leave the jersey in a better place than you found it’ is that preparation of the next generation,” Brakeley said. “That's everything from on-field rugby detail to how to approach and think about the game like a professional. Just as was mentored by older boys when I started, I do my best to carry that tradition forward. Fortunately, there will continue to be an exceptional core of veterans to lend a steady hand as we look toward 2027.”