Why aren’t U.S. national rugby games on TV?

The Friday night game between the United States and Canada’s national rugby teams had eight lead changes and four times during the match when the opponents were separated by one point before the U.S. Eagles ran in a last minute try to win 30-25.

It was, as a first-time rugby viewer said afterwards, a “great match.”

Which leads to this question: Right now I can go out in the TV room and watch Scotland host Wales; Italy versus England is next and the Vancouver Sevens prelims will be on later this afternoon. Six Nations coverage continues tomorrow with France at Ireland and the Major League Rugby is on with San Diego at Toronto and then Houston at Seattle’s home team, the Seawolves, at Starfire Stadium in Tukwila, another sellout.

So why wasn’t the great match between the U.S. Eagles and the Canadians on TV, cable or otherwise where I don’t have to pay premium boxing/wrestling/martial arts fees to watch? At least having it on TV would get it into the local newspaper’s TV listing to show that an international match is happening right here in River City.

Wasn’t ignored on KING-TV, who did a great article on the two Seattle Seawolves who played in last night’s game at Starfire:


The Eagles have three more games over the summer in the Pacific Nation Cup before they head into the Rugby World Cup in Japan in September. Will those games be on TV?


Rise of second-tier rugby nations still seems a dream of the future

U.S. in action against Samoa.
U.S. in action against Samoa.

What to make of Japan’s 45-10 loss to Scotland Wednesday?

Last Saturday after defeating South Africa 34-32, the Japanese were giant-killers, hailed as the vanguard of second-tier rugby nations moving up to compete with the best in the Rugby World Cup.

That did not appear the case on Wednesday. Japan held the Scots to a 12-7 halftime lead and then added another penalty to make it 12-10 soon after the break. But from then on it was all Scotland, as they ran in try after try, picking up the bonus point for scoring at least four in a match.

Japan had little possession, lacked a defensive answer to the Scots and even at the end could not score a face-saving try despite multiple phases with the ball. That was a change from Saturday when they chose to go for a try and a win rather than a penalty kick and a draw. They succeeded then but didn’t have the power or finesse to do so Wednesday.

So what happened? Was the Saturday game a fluke? A very bad day for the Springboks and a tremendous day for Japan? Or maybe South Africa is not the powerhouse of years past?

On Wednesday, the Japanese were playing on four days rest after a bruising game against South Africa. They may have surprised South Africa but lost that element against Scotland.

Scots were playing their first game of the tournament Wednesday. They will face the United States on Sunday with only four days rest, but much of the second half against Japan saw many reserves on the pitch. The Eagles can’t count on much of a break from Scotland’s short turnaround.

Mike Tolkin, the US coach, said after the Sunday loss to Samoa that he wanted fewer penalties and a more steady game from the Eagles in their next game. The Eagles will need all of that and more this coming Sunday in Leeds.

After looking at the four tournament pools, it’s hard not to come away with impression that the second-tier teams still have a ways to go, despite what Japan managed last Saturday.

How things stand:

Pool A: Wales and England each have five points in the standings. They play each other on Saturday.

Pool B: Scotland has the lead with five points and plays Samoa on Saturday. Samoa and Japan each have four points, South Africa has 2 and the U.S. none.

Pool C: New Zealand and Georgia each have four points. The All Blacks play Namibia tonight. Georgia, which surprised Tonga in their first match, plays Argentina on Friday. Hard not to see New Zealand taking control in this pool.

Pool D: France clobbered Romania 38-10 on Wednesday and has nine points to lead the pool. Ireland picked up five points in its 50-7 win over Canada last weekend and play Romania on Sunday. The Irish could take the pool lead with a four-try performance on Sunday. With two teams advancing from each pool, this one seems a likely candidate to come down to the last pool match on Sunday, Oct. 11, when the French and Irish meet.

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

USA, land of pretend world championships

Hard to argue with the summary of the USA rugby effort in The London Times Rugby World Cup guide this past Thursday.

The world, it said, has been waiting forever for the game in America to “harness the big hitters brought up on American football and handlers coming in from basketball.” Then United States rugby could challenge anyone.

But in the meantime, The Times said, this RWC is most likely to “make America realize that sport does not start and end with pretend world championships in American football and baseball.”

The U.S. challenge to get some positive notice on the world rugby stage starts in a few hours as the Eagles take on Samoa at Brighton Stadium.

Not sure how much notice a win will bring, given this question raised by an English fan I talked to yesterday: “How does it feel to be an underdog to a country with a population of less than 200,000?”

But a loss would once again keep the world on hold waiting for the U.S. to answer.

Japan’s win scrambles Pool B prospects

Not sure that Australian scrum half Nick Phipps would still say this about the U.S. rugby team now, but before the Wallabies beat the Eagles 47-10 on Sept. 5, he told The Guardian: “They should cause a couple of upsets at the World Cup. They have some very big, dominant forwards. They have some really big, tall timber in the second row. They also have a couple of centers that are hard runners, and are quite skillful in the offload area as well. They have got threats all around the park.”

The Eagles will need to use all those threats on Sunday as they face Samoa in their first Rugby World Cup 2015 match. A win over Samoa would not be an upset as they have come within a try of beating the Islanders in previous matches. But a win could set up the U.S. to do well in Pool B, which was set topsy-turvy on Saturday with Japan’s upset win over South Africa, previously the heavy favorite to win the pool.

Even with a win on Sunday, it would still be a tough road ahead for the Eagles. Japan is obviously not going to be an easy win on October 11, and before then the U.S. will face Scotland and South Africa, who will be looking to pick up the extra pool points that come with scoring four tries in a match. The way this Pool B is starting out, it could be decided not just on wins and losses, but on getting the advantage through scoring more tries.

It’s set up for a very competitive couple of weeks.