United States has one last chance to show improvement and win a game

The United State rugby team gets its last chance to win a game in the 2015 Rugby World Cup when they take on Japan at Kingsholm Stadium in Gloucester on Sunday.

For Japan, a win would make their third place finish in Pool B look a bit healthier, but even with a five-point bonus win they would fall a point short of taking the runner-up spot from Scotland.

It could have been much more meaningful if on Saturday Samoa had defeated Scotland. Then a win by Japan over the United States would have put Japan through to the quarter finals. Or, the U.S. Eagles could have played spoiler to Japan and helped the Scots through. But Samoa couldn’t quite get it done, losing 36-33.

In the quarter finals, Scotland will play Australia, the winner of Pool A after defeating Wales Saturday 15-9. South Africa gets Wales in the quarter finals.

New Zealand and Argentina advance from Pool C, but won’t know their quarter final opponents until after the Franc-Ireland game on Sunday.

A win by the Eagles on Sunday would do a lot to restore some belief in the outlook by U.S. Coach Mike Tolkin that things are headed in the right direction for U.S. rugby. After the 64-0 drubbing by South Africa, fans could rightfully be skeptical of Tolkin’s optimism.

As he says in the video above, the U.S. did pretty well in the first half (as they did against Samoa and Scotland), holding a full Springbok team to 14 points from two tries that came only after they had to “work their way down the field.” Then, as he says, South Africa got going in the second half, scoring 50 points.

Tolkin sees the problem correctly — many young players in the lineup with little experience at the international or World Cup level. He saw good performance by individuals but not as a team.

For the game on Sunday, Tolkin is starting 13 players who were not in the South Africa starting 15. Only Samu Manoa at No. 8 and Zack Test, a winger, remain from the game played on Wednesday.

Tolkin said he was also frustrated with the four-day turnaround between the two matches and said he “was not alone in that.”

“I’m sure the Rugby World Cup will look at that.”

As for U.S. rugby, he says things will get better.

“Four years down the road, it will be interesting to see what happens in the game,” Tolkin said in calling for international rugby to continue investing in “tier two” nations.

As he said after the Scotland game, the U.S. side would improve with more professional experience.

“Half my guys will have to go to work on Monday,” Tolkin said, and that will not mean going back to play on professional teams in top tier nations. It will mean resuming jobs as plumbers, fitness trainers, etc.

But Tolkin says he thinks that is about to change and predicted professional rugby union competition in the Untied States “soon.”

I like the idea, but I remain skeptical.

Bryan Habana delivers a pass in the game against the United States. He scored three tries in the game to tie Jonah Lomu's record of most tries scored in the World Cup (15).
Bryan Habana delivers a pass in the game against the United States. He scored three tries in the game to tie Jonah Lomu’s record of most tries scored in the World Cup (15).

Hard not to call it an embarrassment: U.S. loses to South Africa, 64-0

Two South African players scored five of the team’s 10 tries, and the Springboks took complete control of the second half and buried the U.S. Eagles 64-0 in the Rugby World Cup.

Bryan Habana, a South African back, scored three tries and Francois Louw, a forward, also put in two five-point tries.

A Springbok forward pushes U.S. defenders back.
A Springbok forward pushes U.S. defenders back.

Four other Springboks collected tries with the 10th one coming from a penalty try awarded for the U.S. team collapsing the scrum. The Springbok dominated in all phases of the game, and the Eagles rarely had possession of the ball and never produced anything from it.

A last-minue spurt by the U.S. ended with Lwazi Mvovo kicking a dropped U.S. pass into open space and going 70 yards for one more horror in a house of them for the Eagles.

South Africa easily picked up the bonus point for scoring four tries and will finish as the winners in Pool B over Scotland, who play Samoa on Saturday. Even with a bonus point on Saturday for Scotland, it would fall a point short of South Africa’s total.

The Springboks will have to wait until the Australia-Wales games on Saturday to see which one finishes as Pool A runner-up and will meet the Springboks in the quarter finals.

The U.S will have one more chance to win a game in this World Cup when they meet Japan on Sunday in Gloucester

Five big days ahead for the U.S. rugby team

Beat South Africa today, and then Japan on Sunday. That’s the task ahead for the United States Eagles in the Rugby World Cup if they want to assure themselves a place in the 2019 tournament in Japan.

Advancing through Pool B to the quarter finals is now out of reach for the Eagles, but getting a RWC win and saving face is still possible for the U.S.

Knocking off the Springboks is a tall order although it’s been done. Japan surprised South Africa and the world by doing so in the first weekend of the tournament. But since then South Africa has shown they have moved beyond that loss, defeating Samoa and Scotland convincingly.

U.S. Coach Mike Tolkin has made several changes in his lineup. He may be resting his best players for the Japan game on Sunday, the last game before the quarter finals start the next weekend.

Tolkin said after the loss to Scotland that he still thought the U.S. could win games in the tournament. We’ll see.

Most of the pools have been sorted out for what teams will advance to the knock-out rounds. But there are still some games this weekend that will have a big impact on what comes next:

Pool B: Samoa vs. Scotland on Saturday. The Scots would love to have this win and a bonus point for scoring four tries. It’s their last game of pool play and they trail South Africa 11-10 in the standings. Whichever team goes out the winner will play the runner up in Pool A.

Pool A: Australia vs. Wales on Saturday. Right now they are tied in the standings with 13 points a piece. Going out as the pool winner would probably mean meeting Scotland in the quarter finals instead of South Africa. That would be my choice.

Pool C: New Zealand plays Tonga and Argentina plays Namibia. Barring an even bigger surprise than Japan over South Africa, the All Blacks and the Pumas will win and go out 1-2.

Pool D: Italy vs. Romania on Sunday will probably determined who takes third place in the pool and wins a guaranteed trip to the 2019 RWC. The stakes are higher for this time around in the game between France and Ireland on Sunday. They are tied with 14 points apiece, and the pool winner will likely face Argentina in the quarters, much preferable to taking on New Zealand.

USA vs. South Africa starts in an hour and 15 minutes.

Mr. Blimpy came back, but the Canadian team did not

Romania celebrates its 17-15 win over Canada.

It was like watching a semi bearing down on you on one of England’s one-laned, unnamed roads. Like watching a big tub of lard coming down the airplane aisle, hoping he doesn’t take the seat next to you. But in this case I knew he would, his muffin top spilled onto me as he sank into the creaking seat.

Worse yet he had an iPad to shoot photos. Maybe the worst thing ever to have a camera lens attached to it. It’s like shooting pictures with a sheet of plywood. No big deal, right? He snaps a couple shots and the blackboard comes down, right? Wrong. He’s shooting video and its like being at the drive-in, the screen held out there for all of us to see what a shakey, worthless waste of space on his memory chip it is.

Only thing that would have been worse is if he put it on a selfie stick.

Meanwhile on the field, Canada let the game slip away 17-15 as the Romanian forwards took over, pushing in two tries. The Canucks kicked away too much possession and stopped going to their backs — their strong point in the first half.

Canada leads Romania at half, 8-0

Kickoff of the Canada-Romania game in the Rugby World Cup.

You know those big white wrapped bales of hay? Bruce and I were squeezed in between two of them for the Canada-Romania game in the Rugby World Cup.

I’d say that the two pseudo sumos on either side of us were the two largest people n the Leicester Stadium except that there had to be two like them on the other side to keep the stadium from tipping over

I’ve been more comfortable as a hooker at the bottom of a collapsed scrum.

And the guy behind me has obviously been deprived of human contact and was trying to make up for it by pressing his knee into my back. At least I hope it was his knee.

One more thing: The Romanians are the slowest team to ever walk a pitch, which is what they do to every lineout as their trainers run out with water bottles.

I’m hoping Canada annihilates them in the second half. The Canucks are ahead 8-0 at half.

Sorry, there should be no cheering in the press box. Wait. I’m not in my comfortable press seat with a table for my laptop.

I’m so spoiled.

But I’m taking sides and also hoping Mr. Blimpy can’t waddle back up to his seat.

Four Seattle Saracens to start for U.S. against South Africa

Four Seattle Saracen rugby players will play for the United States against South Africa in Wednesday’s Rugby World Cup game in London.

Matt Trouville
Matt Trouville
Louis Stanfill
Louis Stanfill

Louis Stanfill and Matt Trouville, who play second row for the Saracens, will take those positions for the United States Eagles, who are looking for their first win in the international tournament. Stanfill and Trouville make their first tournament start in the game at The Stadium in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London.

Olive Kilifi will also play in the forwards while Shalom Suniula  will be in the backs.

Suniula, at stand-off, will pair with Niku Kruger at scrum half.

“Niku and Shalom are a dynamic pair who have been playing within our system all year and know it well,” said Mike Tolkin, U.S. head coach.

The South African team showed its vulnerability in the first weekend of the tournament, suffering an upset loss to Japan. Since then the Springboks have gone on to beat Samoa and Scotland, the second place team in Pool B.

Shalom Suniula
Shalom Suniula

The United States has lost to Samoa and Scotland and will play Japan on Sunday, Oct. 11.

The Pool B winner and runner-up will play against Australia, who eliminated England from advancing on Saturday, and Wales, who also beat England, the first host nation for the Rugby World Cup to fail to advance through preliminary play.

Olive Kilifi
Olive Kilifi

According to USA Rugby, qualification for the knockout rounds from Pool B is still up for grabs. The Eagles need two bonus-point victories – as well as a non-bonus-point loss for Scotland in its final matchup with Samoa – to have a shot at progressing to the quarterfinals. Bonus points are awarded to teams that score four tries in a win.

With a third-place finish in Pool B, the U.S. could earn automatic qualification to Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan.

(Photos from USA Rugby)

Wales wins, 23-13; England gets no help from Fiji

Wales will pick up four points in the standings from their win over Fiji today. But neither the Welsh team nor the Fijians could make good at the end of the game on efforts to get the extra bonus points: Wales could not put in a fourth try and Fiji could not pull within seven points in the loss. Each would have been worth a bonus point in the standings.

So Wales gathers 13 points in the standings with one game to go. A win by England Saturday against Australia would get them to within two points in the standings, a bonus point for four tries would put them within one. A win by Australia would tie them at 13 with Wales; a bonus point for four tries would give them the lead in Pool A.

Wales has one more game after Saturday, against Australia on Oct. 10. If England loses to Australia on Saturday, the Wales-Australia match will decide who goes out as the winner to face the runner up in Pool B and who will face the Pool B winner.

Wales leads 17-6 at halftime

Wales could not score on this rolling maul, but Scott Baldwin, the Welsh hooker, scored a minute later.
Wales could not score on this rolling maul, but Scott Baldwin, the Welsh hooker, scored a minute later.

Probably can’t say that Fiji is out of this game, but they need more possession in the second half to make up the 11-point deficit. They have had some exciting runs but haven’t been able to connect all the dots for a try.

Wales has put together some good back line moves to get close, found support from their forwards and put in two converted tries and a penalty.

This just in: Fiji has a great movement from their backs and scores a try. Ben Volavola converts it and the score is 17-13. looks like we have a game here.

U.S. coach frustrated by team’s second-half effort

Mike Tolkin, head coach of the U.S. rugby team, didn’t like the Eagles’ second-half performance in their loss Sunday to Scotland.

Speaking at the post-game media conference, Tolkin blamed the failure to sustain a winning first-half effort on poor lineout play, too many penalties and Scotland’s ability to keep the U.S. from pursuing the planned approach to the rest of the game.

Chris Wyles, the U.S. captain, told the media he didn’t think Tolkin’s assessment was too harsh.

Second-half letdown isn’t new to the Eagles. The U.S. stood 14-8 behind at the half against Samoa in its first game in the Rugby World Cup before giving up 11 points in the second half and only scoring eight more in the eventual 25-16 loss.

So what is it that leads to second-half letdowns? Tolkin blamed it on the lack of professional experience on the part of many U.S. players.

“Without professional play in the U.S., players don’t get those week-to-week tough games to harden them,” Tolkin said.

Which raises the question of how U.S. players can get the kind of professional play that Tolkin is talking about. The formation of a professional league within the U.S. seems a daunting task.

Where would the games be played? To collect admissions, control of the gate is needed, but most U.S. rugby games are played on open fields. So stadiums are needed. Does that mean playing on the narrow fields of American football stadiums?

Building stadiums for rugby seems an unlikely financial event at this time although some clubs are beginning to secure their own grounds. The Glendale, Colo., Raptors and Atlanta Old White come to mind.

Absent professional play in the U.S., prospective Eagles will continue to find it in other lands, where they compete for spots with players from Pacific Island nations.

Even if Tolkin had his choice of 15 players from the top clubs in Europe, Australia, South Africa or New Zealand, he would have the problem of getting them all on the same field enough times for them to jell as a unit. Another daunting task given the competing professional schedules and the practice needs in the run-up to the World Cup.

There’s still South Africa and Japan to play in this World Cup, but it’s hard not to look ahead to 2019 when the World Cup is in Japan. For now, it looks like developing players in the States and serving as a farm system for professional leagues in other countries may be the U.S. best hope for making it through pool play in a World Cup, which isn’t going to happen this time around despite Tolkin’s statement Sunday that the Eagles still intend to win in the two remaining games in Pool B.

In the first half, aggressive tackling by the U.S. caused several mishandles by the Scotland team.
In the first half, aggressive tackling by the U.S. caused several mishandles by the Scotland team.

U.S. leads Scotland at halftime but can’t hang on to win

Titi Lamositele of Bellingham is on top of the loose ruck as the United States has the ball out against Scotland
Titi Lamositele of Bellingham is on top of the loose ruck as the United States has the ball out against Scotland

The United States rugby team led Scotland 13-6 at halftime in their Rugby World Cup match but could not hold up to the Scot’s spirited attack in the second half and went down 39-16.

The Eagles are now 0-2 in pool play with South Africa and Japan left to play. Scotland has won both of their games and leads Pool B halfway through the competition. The top two teams will advance to the quarter finals.

Titi Lamositele of Bellingham bulled over for a try to lead the U.S. to a their halftime advantage on Sunday at Elland Roads stadium in Leeds, England. At 20 minutes into the game, the Eagles won the ball from a lineout, had it out to the back line where No. 8  Samu Manoa filled in to crash through the Scots’ defense. Stopped about five yards out from the try line, the U.S. won several loose rucks before Lamositele took the ball and pressed it into pay dirt.

The U.S. scored first just past a minute in the game on a penalty kick by Alan MacGinty. But Scotland took advantage of mistakes by the U.S. to take the lead 6-3 on two penalty kicks.

The Eagles’ hard hitting seemed to put the Scots off their game, and several mishandles kept them out of the try zone.

But in the second half, Scotland found ways to score from all over the field, from the back line on the outside, then from an inside back move. Then the forwards pushed over a try before Scotland got one more from their backs. The U.S. had steady possession at the end of the game, but their best chance was lost when Olive Kilifi of the Seattle Saracens lost control of the ball when tackled hard five yards out from the line. The knock-forward resulted in a Scotland scrum and a clearing kick to get out of trouble.

But

MacGinty added one more penalty before the half, which ended with the U.S. up 13-