2022 USA vs Chile

RWC Qualifier Recap: Eagles Escape Away Leg With Win Against Chile

RWC Qualifier Recap: Eagles Escape Away Leg With Win Against Chile

After a 22-21 victory on a muddy pitch in Santiago, the Eagles are now in the driver’s seat in their hunt to get to a seventh straight Rugby World Cup.

Jul 11, 2022 by Briar Napier
RWC Qualifier Recap: Eagles Escape Away Leg With Win Against Chile

It definitely wasn’t pretty, but winning the first of a two-legged Rugby World Cup qualifier against Chile this past weekend was a huge result for the United States men’s national rugby team.

Pulling out a 22-21 victory on a muddy, sloppy surface Saturday in the Chilean capital of Santiago, the Eagles are now in the driver’s seat in their hunt to get to their seventh straight Rugby World Cup. The team needs merely to win by any margin against Los Cóndores to punch their ticket to France.

With professional rugby growing across America—and confirmation earlier this year that the country would be hosting the 2031 Rugby World Cup—qualification to the highest stage in international rugby is critical to the Eagles’ growth and momentum. If they officially seal the deal this weekend in suburban Denver, that growth will only continue to get stronger.

Here’s a peek at where the Chile-United States playoff stands as the return leg awaits Saturday live on FloRugby. 

Wet & Wild

With torrential rain creating a soggy quagmire of the pitch at the Estadio Santa Laura, the Americans not only had to battle the Chilean national team in front of a hostile crowd, but also outside elements.

Once kickoff came and it became apparent that the downpour wasn’t going to let up anytime soon, offense quickly came at a premium on a slow surface and it was the visitors that got a breakthrough first. Wing Christian Dyer put the U.S. ahead by crossing the try line at the corner in the sixth minute, with the follow-up conversion kick of fly-half AJ MacGinty—the Eagles’ leading scorer at the past two Rugby World Cups—giving coach Gary Gold’s side an early 7-0 advantage. 

Two Chilean penalties kept it a low-scoring affair, 7-6 at halftime, but post-intermission was when things started to get a bit wacky. A Chile yellow card early in the second half gave the Eagles a temporary man advantage and eventually a 12-6 lead after hooker Joe Taufete’e nabbed a try from after a successful U.S. maul, but eight points in five minutes from the hosts (including a sensational 80-meter try from Rodrigo Fernandez) gave Chile a sudden surge and lead at 14-12. 

Speaking of surges, the stadium lights completely went out in the 62nd minute when the Eagles were on the doorstep of a third try, leading to a 20-minute stoppage and concern that any American buzz was suddenly lost. 

But the Eagles responded well after the delay, with McGinty booting through a penalty to retake the lead before hooker Kapeli Pifeleti charged through for the third U.S. try and a 22-14 cushion in the 75th minute, an advantage the Americans didn’t lose despite a Chilean try in response.

Homeward Bound

Gold’s squad probably would’ve preferred a more comfortable cushion for the home leg of the playoff, but a win is a win, especially in brutal conditions on the mud-clogged pitch in Santiago. 

Cozier confines await the Eagles this weekend as they host Los Cóndores at Infinity Park in Glendale, Colorado, a venue of which the U.S. is unbeaten thus far in the current Rugby World Cup qualifying cycle after having posted wins over Canada (38-16) and Uruguay (19-16) in the process. 

Chile’s late try in its home leg could prove vital down the stretch as an eight-point Eagles lead on aggregate turned into essentially a tie for the second game, making it especially important that the U.S. gets out on the right foot early and often in front of home support. 

As of now, the match—scheduled for 1 p.m. local time Saturday, July 16—could see a small chance of isolated thunderstorms, but the biggest difference from the away leg will undoubtedly be temperature. Chile, as part of the Southern Hemisphere, is currently amid its winter, while the U.S. is in the dead heat of summer with temperatures likely to hover around 90 degrees in Glendale this weekend. 

The Eagles will certainly be favored for the return leg no matter what the conditions are, but perhaps the change of scenery will lead to some faster-paced rugby as the swampy pitch of the Estadio Santa Laura turned things into a slog. More importantly, a shootout would likely spell good news for the U.S. as it’s won both tests this qualification cycle in which it’s scored at least 22 points.

One Win Away

The Eagles have only missed one Rugby World Cup (1995) in the event’s existence, and though a shock defeat to Chile—which would qualify for its first-ever World Cup with a win—wouldn’t completely eliminate the U.S. from contention for a spot next fall in France, it certainly wouldn’t be a good sign for the direction the national team is going. 

The goal this weekend in Colorado is simple: if America wins, it’s in. If that victory happens, the U.S. will earn a spot in the brutal and already-decided Pool D for the next World Cup, a group that features the defending tournament runner-up (England), two more current world top-10 teams (Japan and Argentina) and Samoa, who the Eagles are 2-5 against all-time. 

But if Chile pulls off the upset and becomes Pool D’s final team, America will be sent to the Final Qualification Tournament later this year where it would have to outlast Kenya, Portugal and either Tonga or Hong Kong for a spot in Pool C (Australia, Wales, Fiji and Georgia). To save themselves the trouble of having to go through an additional bit of the qualification process—and to eliminate the risk of not qualifying—it would be in the Americans’ best interest to get the job done this weekend, emphatically, so that preparations for next fall can begin with certainty. 

Though Chile has proven themselves to be an improved rugby nation as of late, having bounced back from an all-time low world ranking of 30th in 2018 to 23rd now, the U.S. is still 6-1 in its history against the Chileans with a +213 point differential overall.