It’s easy enough to say that the Eagles were better against Japan than they were against Scotland, but the underlying problems are the same. The Japanese forwards bested them by a wide margin in the tight phases, especially the scrum, and again the American attack was painfully slow and short on ideas. These issues aren’t secrets, or difficult to assess, but for whatever reason American coach Mike Tolkin is simply unwilling to address them.
Of the problems, the scrum is the most difficult to fix. Without Shawn Pittman available there are no tighthead props of any real experience available, and while it’s easy to say that neither Eric Fry or Olive Kilifi are up to the job, it’s harder to find a replacement. Still given the vastness of the country one feels there has to be someone, somewhere, who can at least provide stability on their own ball. Kilifi offers next to nothing outside the set piece, so there seems to be little lost in trying another option.
The mounting criticism of poor Mike Petri seems to have put Tolkin in a difficult spot. His long-time association with the scrumhalf through high school, club, and now country, has rightly led to cries of nepotism. Tolkin defended his selection earlier in the week, claiming that Petri provided good service and game sense, and that there simply wasn’t anyone else better available. Any of the 100-odd people in attendance on Saturday could have pointed out the obvious difference in class between Petri and his counterpart, the wonderfully effervescent Fumiaki Tanaka, and to insist that Petri’s service is a strength is patently absurd.
To be clear, Petri’s service to his country is not in question, nor is his character as an individual, but hard choices have to be made and it’s been clear for some time that he simply isn’t an international scrumhalf. It’s easy enough for Tolkin to claim that nobody else is any better when he hasn’t even included another scrumhalf in the match day squad. Besides that, would anyone have complained had he given an opportunity to Nate Augsperger, Shaun Davies, or just about any young scrumhalf with potential? That’s not even mentioning Robbie Shaw, the London Scottish halfback who has suddenly become persona non grata despite outplaying Petri in his most recent outings.
Back to the match, were it not for the outstanding performances of Chris Wyles and Blaine Scully, who scored a cracking hat trick, the Eagles would have been smashed. Kenki Fukuoka crossed for what should have been another try early on, only to be tackled from behind by Folau Niua and knock the ball on in the process of dotting it down. While Scully’s power troubled him throughout, his electric pace caused as many problems going the other way.
The Americans never got any momentum over the gainline aside from the odd Samu Manoa burst, and one incisive run from Danny Barrett that was a bit of fortune out wide. It’s a mystery why giant midfielder Thretton Palamo was never called upon when his power was exactly what was needed to get his side moving. The Brave Blossoms had little trouble with Seamus Kelly and Cameron Dolan’s dodgy ankle prevented him from making much of an impact with the exception of one cheeky interception.
Japan have now won eight matches in a row and head home to face a weakened Azzurri in Tokyo. The Eagles head up the I-5 to Sacramento where they must face their old rivals from the north, a Canadian team who look far more likely and should have beaten the same Scottish side that coasted through the American challenge. Were they to suffer an embarrassing defeat, what might become of Tolkin? Nervous times indeed for the Eagles camp.
UNITED STATES 29 vs 37 JAPAN
Saturday, June 14, 22:30 EST, Los Angeles
08 mins – C. Dolan try 5-0
09 mins – C. Wyles con 7-0
12 mins – F. Tanaka try 7-5
13 mins – A. Goromaru con 7-7
20 mins – A. Goromaru pen 7-10
23 mins – C. Wyles pen 10-10
27 mins – A. Yamada try 10-15
28 mins – A. Goromaru con 10-17
31 mins – B. Scully try 15-17
32 mins – C. Wyles con 17-17
42 mins – K. Holani try 17-22
43 mins – A. Goromaru con 17-24
49 mins – A. Goromaru pen 17-27
53 mins – K. Holani try 17-32
54 mins – A. Goromaru con 17-34
61 mins – B. Scully try 22-34
62 mins – C. Wyles con 24-34
69 mins – B. Scully try 29-34
74 mins – A. Goromaru pen 29-37
C. Wyles; B. Scully, F. Niua, S. Kelly, T. Maupin; S. Suniula, M. Petri; N. Wallace (E. Fry 55), P. Thiel (T. Coolican 58), O. Kilifi (T. Lamositele 55); S. Manoa, S. LaValla; D. Barrett, T. Clever (capt.) (K. Sumsion 63), C. Dolan (L. Stanfill 50).
A. Goromaru; A. Yamada, M. Sa’u, Y. Tamura, K. Fukuoka; H. Tatekawa, F. Tanaka (A. Hiwasa 63); M. Mikami (H. Hirashima 55), S. Horie, K. Hatakeyama; S. Ito (H. Ono 58), L. Thompson (S. Makabe 71); J. Ives, M. Leitch (capt.), K. Holani (H. Tui 58).
Referee: G. Garner (RFU)
Assistants: L. Hodges (WRU) & N. Hennessy (WRU)
TMO: M. Nelson (USAR)