Let’s stop the clock for penalty, conversion kicks in rugby

Too much kicking and not enough tackling left the United States national rugby team down 32-25 to the Uruguayan team Saturday night at Starfire Stadium in Tukwila.

Straight ahead running by the Uruguay backs had a lot to do with the South American team’s victory in the American Rugby Championship.

The U.S. Eagles kicked away possession and saw the Uruguayan back cutting through their defense. The only way the U.S. team could score was from mauls from their own lineouts with Joe Taufete’e, the hooker, scoring three tries.

Uruguay led 19-13 at half, put up another try early in the second half (24-13) before Taufete’s scored his third try (24-18).

One more try by the Uruguayan backs before the U.S. got untangled enough to run in a try (29-25). With a minute to go, Uruguay chose to take a penalty kick and frittered away the minute so that when the ball flew through the uprights the game was over, 32-25.

It might as well have been like taking a knee in slow football: The Uruguayan kicker got a drink of water from the trainer, lined up the ball, hesitated, hesitated and finally kicked it as the clock ran out.

My suggestion: Stop the clock for penalty kicks and conversions. The kickers take too long and burn up too many minutes.

Stop the clock when a try is scored and restart it after the conversion kick is taken.

Same with a penalty: When the team decides to kick for goal, stop the clock and restart it when the play resumes.

Why let the dawdling kicker run down minutes off the clock while he is waiting for the tee to be brought in, adjusting the ball on a tee as big as a traffic cone, scraping his feet on the turf, backing up, taking three steps to the side, grimacing or doing other facial contortions and finally approaching and putting foot to ball.

Let’s spend that time running, scrummaging, tackling, scoring tries and playing rugby.

More international rugby at Starfire Friday night at 7 when the U.S. Eagles take on the Canadian national team.

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.

Barbecue in England? It’s on the weekend itinerary

American rugby fans can expect to be outnumbered in Leeds this weekend by the supporters of Scotland.

“Scotland will be the biggest group for Leeds with the U.S. a close second,” said Charlotte Rutherford, PR and Marketing Manager at Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership.

Leeds is one of the closest game venues to Scotland in the Rugby World Cup, and Rutherford said the city will be filled with Scots arriving to cheer on their team in Sunday’s match against the USA Eagles.

Canada will play Italy on Saturday at Elland Road Stadium, the first rugby union international to be played there.

Rutherford noted that for the CEO of USA Rugby, Nigel Melville, having rugby union in Leeds is like a homecoming for him as he was born in Leeds.

Rutherford said Leeds is a compact city so that fans can visit a lot in a short time. But if you only have time to visit one thing, Rutherford suggested the Henry Moore Institute. The “VisitBritain” guide to the tournament says the institute celebrates sculpture and is named after Leeds College of Art’s most famous graduate. It says the institute is “part of the Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle, which is the largest collection of modern sculpture in Europe.”

Rutherford also suggested the Leeds Art Galley, which the guide says has a broad range of exhibitions.

For food, Rutherford was downright enthusiastic about Red’s True Barbecue. BBQ in England?

“Each year Red’s takes a pilgrimage to a Southern U.S. state and brings back what they have learned and shares it.”

See you there.

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