Ultimately what will this match mean to either country? The favorite Ireland extended its winning streak against the USA to 8. The narrow winning margin will be dismissed because of Ireland’s top players either being away with the Lions or resting from injury. The meaning will need to come from what the sides ultimately learn about themselves.
USA Rugby hopefully learned that Houston is THE PLACE to hold an international match. Over 20,000 fans showed up to set a new USA record.
Both Ireland and USA looked hesitant in attack. USA scrumhalf, Mike Petri, took critical fractions of seconds while he waited for players to be in the right position. Possibly this was necessary as US handling was not good, and knock-ons led to the Eagles greatest failing – scrums. Penalties from scrums resulted in several penalties. Two were converted. Others left the USA deep in their own territory.
Fortunately Ireland floundered with line-outs. Unfortunately the USA could do little more than kick the stolen possession away.
The Eagles delivered several ‘big hits”, but the result was often Ireland cycling the ball out quickly and making one of the few line breaks of the evening.
The match was exciting to watch because it was close, but not for the quality of rugby. Lots of time was spent in scrums. When USA captain, Todd Clever, was yellow carded following an accidental late hit that gave Ireland 3 points and a one man advantage, Chris Wyles expertly slowed the match down milking every second before Clever returned. Todd’s work rate was once again outstanding, but where is the emerging replacement for the 30 year-old Clever. The professional backrow of LaValla (Stade Francais), Manoa (Northampton), and Clever (NTT Shining Arc) were a strong defensive force, but they haven’t jelled as an offensive unit providing the quick offload to a ready backline. The backline was good in defense but often were flat and except for Hume and Ngwenya showed little strike potential.
In the 62nd minute Ngwenya made a break and kicked ahead. He reached the ball just as an Irish player knocked-on close to the try line. The USA was unable to take advantage of either the knock-on or the ensuing scrum and after several phases ended up settling for a penalty which ended the scoring at 15-12.
This section is devoted to the World Cup and the USA’s involvement in this pinnacle (to quote Paul Emerick) tournament of rugby 15s. When Mike Tolkin (USA coach) was asked at the pep rally prior to the Ireland match how much was he thinking about 2015, he indicated very little by holding his thumb and forefinger slightly separated. This match will have little bearing on World Cup qualification or future World Cup success unless Canada picked up some ideas on how to exploit the USA’s weaknesses. It was a nice evening out in Houston, a great rugby hosting town, with little ventured and nothing gained …. unless the USA learns from mistakes.