Uruguay defeated a frustratingly error-strewn USA team 32-25 Saturday before a packed Seattle-area crowd, basically wrapping up 2nd place in the Americas Rugby Championship in the process.
The problems dogging the USA since the beginning of the year—handling errors, penalties, and lack of finishing—final cost the Eagles a game they had every ability to win it.
Uruguay, for their part, brought a powerful attack that wasn’t afraid to test the Eagles out wide. But in the middle or out wide, the USA defense was found lacking.
Things started a little off-kilter for the Eagles when starting prop Chance Wenglewski strained his calf in warmups. David Ainuu was put into a starting role, and Olive Kilifi was drafted in to man the bench.
But that wasn’t the reason why Uruguay charged through some gaps in the inside channels, setting up a try for prop Mateo Sanguinetti within four minutes.
Early Eagles Reply
The Eagles did reply to that. A run from captain Blaine Scully started them forward, and eventually a penalty produced a kick to the corner, a lineout, and an expert maul. Hooker Joe Taufete’e carried the ball and over he went to set the front-rower try-scoring record. The crowd at Starfire Sports Center roared.
Slowly the USA started to gain ascendency, and another lineout and maul produced a second try for Taufete’e and a 10-7 USA lead.
But it wasn’t going to be that easy. Scrumhalf Ruben de Haas didn’t give himself enough room to execute a box kick (see our video analysis on just this topic). His effort was blocked, and while the Eagles recovered, but Hanco Germishuys was penalized for not releasing in the tackle. Center Andres Vilaseca, who earlier had hit the post on a penalty attempt, missed this one also.
But moments later, Los Teros struck. From the 22 dropout Uruguay launched a high ball that no one was able to catch. Uruguay swarmed onto the ball and quickly went wide with it. Wing Federico Favaro was in support and wrong-footed Bryce Campbell to go over. Uruguay 12, USA 10.
Back came the USA. Cam Dolan blocked a kick and Uruguay almost gave up a try right there. Instead they gave up a penalty, and Will Hooley kicked it through the posts for a 13-12 USA lead.
But penalties once again rebounded to hurt the USA. Hooley chased a kick and hit his man in the air. Someone mouthed off to referee Pablo de Luca, and he marched off another team meters.
Uruguay took the lineout, ran a long series of phases inside the USA 22, and then flyhalf Juan Manuel Cat sold a dummy and scampered over.
It was a crucial score, as it put Uruguay up 19-13 at halftime.
Eager to get that try back, the Eagles instead put themselves behind the eight ball. Twice the Eagles kick possession away to open the second half, and the second effort allowed Uruguay the charge through the middle again, and then run a try in the corner for a 24-13 lead.
“It was a little bit of a nail in the coffin,” said USA head coach Gary Gold after the game. “We had a good talk at halftime, we had a good focus. To come out and to convere a try and now you know you've got more than one score [to overcome], you know you've got your work cut out for you."
A nice run from Bryce Campbell got the USA in the red zone again, and eventually another maul put Taufete’e over for his third. Hooley missed the kickable conversions, but the USA was in with a chance at 24-18. But the Eagles had trouble break-in the Uruguayan defense, and found themselves bashing their heads against a wall.
The USA had ample opportunities to score, but right at the crucial moment, saw those chances fritter away.
Scoring Chance Backfires
And then, with about 12 minutes left in the game, the Eagles got a scrum near the middle of the field. They ran a play to the right, with De Haas linking with a series of backs. Will Magie grubbed ahead, and the USA chase was disorganized. Uruguay countered, and raced 80 meters downtime sideline to score in the corner. That was the real killer. With just over ten minutes left, Uruguay led by two scores, 29-18.
The Eagles went back on the front foot. After repeated penalties, and a yellow card to Uruguay captain Juan Manuel Gaminara, the USA finally got that try, with a long pass from Magie to Dolan allowing the No. 8 to slip a backhanded pass to Scully, who scored.
But it wasn’t enough. Uruguay worked the clock for the rest of the game, not allowing the Eagles a chance to steal the ball, and ending the game with a penalty from Vilaseca to seal it.
“I am very proud of my team,” said Gaminara. “I wasn’t able to be on the field when they finished it, but they played hard. We knew to beat the USA we had to give more than 100%. And we knew to beat a team like the USA we had to play, not just scrum and kick and maul. We played wide, and we scored.”
“It just wasn’t good enough,” added Scully.
No, no it wasn’t. The USA team gave up way too many penalties, and had way too many possessions within five meters of the Uruguay tryline where they came away with nothing. Their kicking game was confused, and their lineout was too inconsistent.
If ever there’s a wakeup call, this was it.
Uruguay takes on Brazil next week, while the USA takes on Canada. Uruguay needs a tie, or two bonus points in a loss, or better, to clinch 2nd in the ARC. The Eagles can still take 2nd, but will need Brazil to beat Uruguay for that to happen.
Tries: Favaro 2, Sanguinetti, Freitas, Cat
Convs: Favaro, Vilaseca
Tries: Taufete’e 3, Scully