USA Eagles dominate v. Brazil to go 2-0 in ARC
Canada win will set up early March tilt v. Jags for title
By Fran Thompson:
The Eagles’ less than precise opening wins in the Americas Rugby Championship happened to coincide with what was the best Six Nations start ever. We may never again see as brutal a four game package over The Pond. Rallying in the final 10 minutes for two gruelling and spectacular wins, the English are still on track to break the Kiwis’ record 18 game winning streak. But casualties are mounting. Four Scots sustained concussions and Greig Laidlaw, the world’s best lock, led four injury replacements in Scotland’s heartbreaker v. France. George North would certainly have made a difference in Wales’ week 2 loss.
The 6Nations start proved, in addition to how exponentially better the presentation of the game is getting almost monthly, that depth rules in tourney play. England replaced half of its pack and survived.
We’ll find out well enough if that England depth can match up with the guys in black when the RWC convenes in Japan two years henceforth. Of course, it’s just silly to compare the ARC to 6N competition. But as fiercely as high level rugby is played, USA coach John Mitchell is well aware that every tourney, including the ARC, is decided well beyond the starting XV.
Canada opened its ARC campaign with a loss to Argentina before beating Chile for the nation’s 100th test victory. Head to head, Canada has more than doubled the USA’s 16 wins, with 24 of the Canadians’ 38 W’s coming on home soil. In last year’s initial ARC, the Eagles beat Canada for the fourth consecutive time behind Todd Clever’s hat trick – his best offensive output since first donning his U.S. jersey. Clever is just one of four from last year that Mitchell will call to action on Saturday (replay at 11 p.m. on ESPN2).
“Working with a limited squad of 26 and reacting to injuries, we’re genuinely trying to give most people a week in before they get a start,” said Mitchell, who was given a four-year contract to see the Eagles through the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
Do not to shortchange USA’s 51-3 win v. Brazil. The Eagles were shocked by that team in Sao Paulo last year. But make no mistake that Mitchell is building his team with one eye directly on Japan. Just look at the way he sights trying to create “healthy competitions,’’ a synonym for depth, throughout his national side.
The Eagles should win v. Canada to set up a winner-take-all v. the Jaguars on March 4. But the real test for USA and the new coach is 24 months out.
“We’re just focusing and concentrating on our processes,’’ Mitchell said. “Guys understand what’s coming. As a result of this performance and the next two weeks, I’m going to solidify my Rugby World Cup Qualifying group. It’ll give me a good indication of how resilient people are away from home.”