U.S. Eagles “masters of our own misfortunes”

Titi Lamositele (No. 3) of Bellingham, WA, squares off against Samoan defenders.
Titi Lamositele (No. 3) of Bellingham, WA, squares off against Samoan defenders.

“We were masters of our own misfortunes” was how Justin Fitzpatrick, forwards coach for the U.S. national rugby team, summed up the Eagles’ loss to Samoa on Sunday.

Too many penalties, too many movements left unfinished, a couple of missed kicks and some failures at defense resulted in a 25-16 win for the Pacific Islanders.

Mike Tolkin, the U.S. head coach, was asked at the post-game media session what the Eagles would do differently in their next game.

“Hopefully, win,” he answered.

He went on to say more discipline and more continuity were what he wanted from his team this coming Sunday against Scotland.

The Eagles gave up 15 points in penalties.

“At the end of the day, we were still in position to win but could not finish,” Tolkin said.

He said he was also disappointed that they missed out on getting a bonus point from the match. Teams receive one point in the standings for a loss of seven points or less.

With the U.S. trailing 22-11 with only 11 minutes left in the game, a try would have put them within six. Then the Eagles were called for crossing, essentially blocking, which is not allowed in rugby. Samoa added three points with the penalty kick so that when Chris Bauman scored a five-point try — three minutes after he entered the game as a sub — it needed to be converted to get the Eagles within seven. Alas, the kick, would have added two points, went wide.

(Other bonus points in the standings: four points for a win; two for a draw; one for scoring four or more tries – win or lose. No points for a loss of more than seven points.)

On Wednesday, Scotland plays Japan, who shook up the tournament – Pool B especially – with their shocking upset of South Africa on Saturday.

Tolkin said the upset might cause Scotland to re-think what players they select for Wednesday’s game.

Scotland might have been tempted to hold out some of their best players against Japan. But after Japan’s 34-32 win over the Springboks, that would seem unwise.

So when the U.S. plays Scotland on Sunday, Sept. 27 in Leeds, they may face a team of players with only four days rest while the Eagles will have had a week to recover.

And what about South Africa, the Eagles’ Pool B opponent on Wednesday, Oct. 7? Any word on how the unexpected loss has affected them?

“We won’t wallow in others’ misfortunes,” Fitzpatrick said. “We’ve got enough on our own plate to deal with.”

Here’s how it stands in Pool B:

Japan: 1 win (34-32 over South Africa) 4 points

Samoa: 1 win (25-16 over U.S.) 4 points

South Africa: 1 loss (32-34 to Japan) 2 points (scored four tries in loss by less than seven points)

United States :1 loss (16-25 to Samoa) 0 points

Scotland: Plays first game against Japan on Wednesday

The Samoan haka before the match.
The Samoan haka before the match.Wit

At Rugby School, there’s no doubt about where the game began

Rugby School Head Master Peter Green wasted no time addressing the question of whether or not the game of rugby started at his school. Immediately after saying welcome to about 60 members of the press on Wednesday, he said, “Whether it was William Webb Ellis or not may be debatable, but what is not is that the game started here.”

The Close at Rugby School, where the game began.
The Close at Rugby School, where the game began.

Green compared the cherished tradition about the start of the game to an Old Testament story, something too good to fade away. Some would say that long before Ellis took the ball in hand “in a fine disregard of the rules,” others were carrying, not kicking, something in some kind of game. It might even go back, they say, to Roman times.


My kind of chapel carving.
My kind of chapel carving.

But as Green pointed out, the rules of the modern game were first written down by students at Rugby School. The first games were played at The Close, an enclosure used for grazing. So players shared the field with sheep, which must have made for some nasty stains on their clothes (no uniforms back then; boys played in school togs). Green said the sides could be as many as 200 against 70 and the matches could last five days, although the rules in the 1880s cut that to three.

Strange to have such lop-sided sides, but maybe there is something in what Green said: “Once some students posted a sign that there would be a match between those who had been flogged by the head master and those who had not. The head master then posted a sign underneath that said if this match came off everyone would end up on the same side.”

Rugby School was founded in 1567, moved to its present grounds in 1756 and Ellis — or someone — ran with the ball in 1823. The school now has 800 students aged 11 to 18 and admitted girls 40 years ago. But it does not have a women’s rugby team.

Statue in Rugby to William Webb Ellis.
Statue in Rugby to William Webb Ellis.

“We have girls keen to play,” Green said, “but there are no other schools playing women’s rugby.

“Rugby is a school of obligation, not privilege,” Green said. “We expect our students to leave here and make a mark on the world.”

Previous Rugbeians have done just that. The game of rugby spread as former Rugby students, fellows or teachers became head master at other schools. Others carried the game out of Britain, including Richard Sykes, who some say brought the game to the United States and also established towns in North Dakota.

Rupert Brooke and Matthew Arnold (his father, Thomas, is credited with introducing sports when he was head master at Rugby) are famous poets.

(The paragraph below is in error, brought to my attention in Caspar’s comment below. “O His Coy Mistress” was writtne by Andrew Marvell. Please click here to see my correction.)

Arnold’s poem “To His Coy Mistress” has been one of my favorites since the last day of my college freshman English class. That’s when the girl I sat beside and fruitlessly dreamed about all quarter said “if some guy used that line on me, I’d fall for him in a minute.”

Then I heard the class bell ringing at my back, and she was gone.

Ball maker
Peter Prince, a former shoe maker, stitches rugby balls at the William Webb Ellis Museum.

Coming to England soon: 466,000 visitors

The video above is provided by England Rugby 2015, responsible for running the six-week tournament. Each of the 20 teams in the Rugby World Cup is being given a welcome ceremony, either in the city where they will play their first game or where they are training.

Running the tournament is a huge task, but the financial rewards for England Rugby 2015 and its parent, Rugby Football Union, are huge, according to an article in The Sunday Times. And the benefits don’t stop there.

Peter Evans and Mark Souster, who wrote The Times article for its Business section, report that the economic activity generated by the tournament will be 2.2 billion pounds with an estimated 982 million pound boost to the British gross domestic product. Broadcasting rights have gone to 205 countries, and 466,000 visitors are expected to come to England for the games.

Ticket sales stand at 93 percent sold and that has brought in 200 million pounds. The Times article included an estimate from the commercial side of the tournament, Rugby World Cup Limited, that the “surplus” (profit) would be 150 million pounds with much of that to be reinvested in the game through tournaments (the Las Vegas Sevens, for example), development of the women’s game and enhancement of the game in Africa and Asia.

Broadcast rights are 60 percent of the income and more comes from the sponsors, most notably Heineken, Land Rover and Emirates airlines.

Pubs are also expected to do well. Evans and Souster ended the article with this quote from a pub owner comparing football (soccer) fans to rugby’s: “People who like rugby tend to arrive at pubs earlier than football fans. They stay all day and they drink more.”