Sunday, 30 March 2014

Roundup: USA vs Uruguay RWC Americas Qualifier Second Leg


Report of the second leg of the World Cup qualifying playoff between USA and Uruguay in Atlanta as the Eagles became the 16th team to confirm their place at next year's tournament.

United States USA (3) 32
Uruguay Uruguay (13) 13
Aggregate: USA 59-40 Uruguay

Following the 27-27 draw last weekend, this was a winner takes all encounter that the USA ran away with in the last 20 minutes to take the game comfortably in the end, but Uruguay again made them work harder for it than the final scoreline suggests.

In fact, the Uruguayans led for the first hour and it was like a continuation of last week. The scrums were a mess and the Eagles were hit with a big blow when Olive Kilifi got injured early on which brought on Nick Wallace. Prior to the game in Montevideo, Wallace was praised by scrum coach Justin Fitzpatrick as "someone that had a strong fall", but he has had an utterly forgettable couple of games up against the the Uruguayan scrum.

The Eagles were in charge of much of the territory for the first quarter of an hour but it started going pear shaped after Andrew Suniula got sin binned for throwing a punch at Franciso Bulanti. From there Uruguay got their first chance to attack the USA, a penalty led to a lineout 5 metres out which then led to a series of scrums 5 metres out. This was exactly how Los Teros wanted it, after winning numerous penalties and Wallace getting sin binned two weeks in a row, they eventually scored with Joaquín Prada getting his second try in two weeks using the space in the backline created by the sin bins.

Uruguay have their limitations, they showed very little attacking threat outside of the scrum. But one thing they did show throughout the first half was their brave and impressively refined ankle chopping tackle technique. Often stereotypes of the way a team plays are a load of crap as teams alter very often, but this Uruguay side is indeed very much like a poorer version of the old fashioned Argentina sides of the days gone by.

After the USA got back to 15 men, they managed for a change to keep the ball in hand for a series of phases in the Uruguay 22, they spent 8 minutes there in fact. Los Teros to their credit, bravely kept chopping them down time and time again, for about 34 phases in total in their own 22. And they successfully kept the USA tryless, as the Eagles came away just with 3 points and a yellow card to Arturo Avalo.

Whilst the USA didn't score a try, they at least kept the ball in hand for a sustained period, unlike last week where Uruguay were able to compete for longer with the USA scarcely making it past 5 phases. Periods of play such as that one in their own 22 was draining on the Uruguayan pack and eventually played a part in them falling away in the last quarter.

Still though, the fact USA was unable to score and had so little invention will be concerning for Tolkin and his team. Better teams won't tire out through plays like that and the USA will need to take opportunities or they will fail to win games as we saw against the New Zealand Maori last November.

When Uruguay went into the half time break 13-3 ahead with an extra 6 points from a high tackle Lou Stanfill and another dominant scrum, the Eagles supporters were beginning to get jittery they might fall to possibly their biggest ever upset defeat. A struggle away from home is one thing, but at home they really would be expected to have been firmly in charge of the result in the first half.

They needn't have worried though, it was just a matter of time in the second half until the USA began to steam home. Eric Fry, despite being handed another beating at scrum time, shuffled over from close range. Uruguay still held the lead until 60 minutes, but then under fire Mike Petri who had been struggling in the game up until that point, ran past a weak attempted tackle from Bulanti to score.

Uruguay continued to wilt over the last 15 minutes, in total conceding 29 unanswered points. In the first half the tackling was so impressive, but now they were falling off tackles that they were making easily beforehand. The huge advantage they had at the scrum also subsided, and the USA for once managed to cut down the handling errors and soon enough both the Suniula brothers got tries and the game secured.

In the end it was a performance good enough to get the result against Uruguay, but the USA will need to up their game significantly or they will go winless in June for the second year in a row. Coach Mike Tolkin is not in any immediate danger to lose his role as coach after delivering World Cup qualification, but if the Eagles play like that against any side ranked above them they lose comfortably and he will come under increasing pressure. Tolkin has a number of selection calls to make and areas that need drastic work, a repeat of 2013's results against Canada and Japan would leave the possibility of the USA being stuck with a lame duck until 2015.

For Uruguay, leading on aggregate after 140 minutes of rugby was largely above their expectations. They will have been disappointed to concede 22 points in the last quarter, but there are plenty of positives for Pablo Lemoine's men in the way they competed. They will head into the Repechage expecting to beat the second best side in Asia, then will likely face a very interesting and close playoff against Russia for the final World Cup spot. Los Teros are still underdogs to qualify, but their odds shortened after these 2 games.

To reach the World Cup, the goals Uruguay will need to work on are fitness, lineout/restarts and working on an alternative way of scoring points outside the scrum and relying on opposition unforced errors. Despite some skill and technique at the tackle area, with ball in hand in open play they were lacking some variant of a metre maker either in forwards or the backs.

USA: 15 C Wyles; 14 B Scully, 13 S Kelly (F Niua 78), 12 A Suniula (T Maupin 71), 11 L Hume; 10 T L'Estrange (S Suniula 65), 9 M Petri; 1 O Kilifi (N Wallace 19), 2 P Thiel (T Coolican 74), 3 E Fry (T Lamositele 70); 4 L Stanfill (T Tuisamoa 70), 5 S Manoa; 6 T Clever (c, T Lamositele 22-35), 7 S LaValla, 8 C Dolan (K Sumsion 72).
Tries (4): Fry (47), Petri (61), S Suniula (66), A Suniula (69) Conversions (3): Wyles (48, 62, 67) Penalties (2): Wyles (35, 76) Sin Bin: A Suniula (17), Wallace (21)

Uruguay: 15 G Mieres; 14 L Leivas, 13 J Prada (A Durán 60), 12 A Vilaseca (F Bulanti 11), 11 J Etcheverry; 10 F Berchesi, 9 A Ormaechea; 1 A Corral (R de Mula 40), 2 A Avalo (c, C Pombo 55), 3 O Durán (M Sagario 30); 4 S Vilaseca (C Soares 71), 5 M Palomeque (F Lamanna 46); 6 J Gaminara, 7 D Magno (J de Freitas 55), 8 A Nieto.
Try (1): Prada (23) Conversion (1): Berchesi (24) Penalties (2): Berchesi (37, 40) Sin Bin: Avalo (34)

Referee: Greg Garner (England) | Venue: Fifth Third Bank Stadium, KSU, Atlanta | Attendance: 6,197

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