Eagles Escape With A Draw

Blainy Scully United States Eagles Uruguay Los Teros 2014 World Cup Qualifiers RugbyOne step forward and one step back, waaay back. Describing the American performance in Montevideo as anything but awful would be disingenuous. Predictions are always flimsy at best in sport, which of course is part of the allure, but even the most pessimistic would have expected the Eagles to build on their November form and at least come away with the win. In the end they were probably fortunate to leave with a draw. Had Felipe Berchesi’s conversion of Agustin Ormaechea’s try gone over they wouldn’t have even had that.

Things went wrong from the start. Folau Niua got an early penalty kick, but for the next twenty minutes the Eagles were totally flat, giving away numerous penalties, most of the careless variety. Niua, with a lazy kicking style, bounced one off the uprights from right in front of the sticks and it was a curious thing that it was he and not Chris Wyles kicking in the first place.

Repeated penalties against Uruguay and the referee lost his patience, showing yellow to Diego Magno, and Niua this time took three points as this looked to be a turning point in the match. It was indeed, but not for the Americans, instead it was Uruguay who scored 13 unanswered points with a man in the bin. Berchesi wasn’t exactly convincing with his striking either, but he found his range before disaster struck for the visitors.

The ball was moved wide left and the ruck was won but Mike Petri was nowhere to be found, Los Teros counter-rucked and Joaquin Prada picked up the loose ball to race 40 metres down the line and score in the corner. The replay was unclear as his foot might have crossed the touchline before the touchdown but the TMO awarded it. Whether or not the call was right it was deserved and after Berchesi added a penalty to the conversion the Eagles were in deep trouble.

After going through several phases Eric Fry got a case of white line fever and though he appeared to have scored, it was a clear double movement and he was penalised instead. Magno returned and Los Teros cleared temporarily, but the Eagles had their tails up and finally it was burly hooker Phil Thiel forcing his way over from in close. Niua converted to restore some hope heading into the second half.

It was Berchesi again, however, who stretched the lead for Uruguay shortly after the restart. The Eagles had a chance to claw back from a penalty but Clever strangely opted for the corner and appropriately botched the lineout drive, knocking on to hand the ball back to the opposition. Just when it seemed like the Americans were sunk, Samu Manoa woke up.

The giant Northampton second rower picked a perfect line off Andrew Suniula and ran nearly untouched from near halfway to score under the posts. Five minutes later it was Wyles taking an inside pass from Niua to repeat the heroics, and with the momentum now firmly in American favour, it looked like they might escape with victory.

Substitutes started to pile into the match, with several Eagles looking worse for wear, and Nick Wallace, among others, probably wished he had stayed on the bench. The American scrum had been barely afloat to that point but with Olive Kilifi and Hayden Smith off, and fresh props on for Uruguay, it was shunted backwards at a rate of knots. After repeated collapses Wallace was deemed the primary offender and dismissed for the remainder of the match, with poor Titi Lamositele brought on to help hold up a now seven man Eagle scrum.

It was always going to result in a Uruguayan try, the only question was where. Fortunately for the Americans Magno picked up from the back and Ormaechea went over in the corner. Had the ball stayed in, it might have been a penalty try under the sticks. As it was Berchesi’s conversion narrowly drifted wide and the game would end in a draw.

For the Eagles it might as well have been a loss. Save for a five minute stretch before the half and another ten minutes in the second, they looked totally at odds with each other and maddeningly inaccurate. Petri had a poor game, taking bad options and often taking too many steps before clearing the ball, and Toby L’Estrange was ordinary at best. For all of Mike Tolkin’s talk about the team being in good shape there were more than a few forwards gasping for air in the first half, with Smith in particular looking well short of match fitness.

Clever’s leadership was again questionable and after being subbed with 20 minutes still to play one wonders if Scott LaValla should now be handed the captaincy. He was one of the few Eagles to walk away from the match with his head held high and looks far less insolent when conversing with the referee. Luke Hume looked hungry when he came on at the half, so too Shalom Suniula, who oddly enough replaced L’Estrange, not Petri, in the dying minutes.

Uruguay, on the other hand, can be very pleased with their efforts. They disrupted as best they could at the breakdown and committed numbers to tackling the bigger American ball runners, even sending Manoa hurtling backwards on one memorable occasion. Berchesi’s tactical kicking caught the coverage out of position a couple times, and Ormaechea bossed things well from scrumhalf. Their will to win even when Magno was carded was exemplary.

Even with the draw it’s unlikely that the Eagles will falter again in Georgia, though they have made things infinitely more difficult for themselves. Instead of having a buffer and a chance to open up for the home crowd, they’ll likely have to play conservatively and guarantee a win, but in doing so risk more problems against a confident Uruguayan pack. It will be a long flight home for Tolkin & Co., and an even longer week of training.

URUGUAY 27 vs 27 UNITED STATES
Saturday, March 22, 19:00 GMT, Montevideo

SCORING
02 mins – F. Niua pen 0-3
04 mins – F. Berchesi pen 3-3
22 mins – F. Berchesi pen 6-3
27 mins – F. Niua pen 6-6
29 mins – F. Berchesi pen 9-6
31 mins – J. Prada try 14-6
32 mins – F. Berchesi con 16-6
35 mins – F. Berchesi pen 19-6
39 mins – P. Thiel try 19-11
40 mins – F. Niua con 19-13
44 mins – F. Berchesi pen 22-13
48 mins – S. Manoa try 22-18
49 mins – F. Niua con 22-20
54 mins – C. Wyles try 22-25
55 mins – F. Niua con 22-27
74 mins – A. Ormaechea try 27-27

CARDS
26 mins – D. Magno yellow (professional foul)
73 mins – N. Wallace yellow (repeat infringements)

URUGUAY
G. Mieres; L. Leivas, J. Prada, A. Vilaseca (J. de Freitas 54), J. Etcheverry (F. Bulanti 62); F. Berchesi, A. Ormaechea; A. Corral (R. de Mula 56), A. Avalo (capt.) (N. Klappenbach 51), O. Duran (M. Sagario HT); M. Palomeque (C. Soares 79), S. Vilaseca (F. Lammana 55); J. Gaminara, D. Magno, A. Nieto.

UNITED STATES
C. Wyles; B. Scully, F. Niua, A. Suniula, T. Maupin (L. Hume HT); T. L’Estrange (S. Suniula 74), M. Petri; O. Kilifi (N. Wallace 62), P. Thiel (T. Coolican 74), E. Fry; H. Smith (L. Stanfill 51), S. Manoa; T. Clever (capt.) (K. Sumsion 58 {T. Lamositele 73}), S. LaValla, C. Dolan.

Referee: M. Raynal (FFR)
Assistants: I. Iparaguirre (UAR) & C. Poggie (UAR)
TMO: S. Borsoni (UAR)

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