Tuesday, 25 March 2014

The USA's worst performance in Mike Tolkin era


USA were heavy favourites coming into their clash with Uruguay but were lucky to come away with a draw. Here we take a look at just how bad the Eagles performance was. Possibly their worst under Mike Tolkin.

Let's not beat about the bush and offer platitudes Uruguay's way, from the USA's perspective they were horrendous in Montevideo, one of their worst performances for a long while.

Uruguay played the exact way they were expected to. They didn't roll over and wave the white flag in front of their home fans, scrapped hard at the breakdown and late in the match successfully targeted the weak USA scrum.

USA would have known the challenge Uruguay presented, known they were the better powered outfit. There was a simple enough gameplan to have won the game easily, but the unforced error count was just remarkably high and they failed to execute it.

The first of the fundamental areas that went wrong for the Eagles was the ability to keep the ball in the right areas of the field. It took them 26 minutes to manage to get through more than 5 phases, and lo and behold when they managed to it resulted in 3 points and a Uruguayan yellow card.
GIF: Quick front foot ball, good passing out wide, the USA
look to have some forward momentum and quick ball
building but Petri opts to run left with just an inch of space
There was a direct link between the amount of phases USA had and scoring points in this game. After Uruguay scored a try against  the run of play, they managed to get past 5 phases twice more in the first half and it led to a disallowed try for Eric Fry, then an actual try for Phil Thiel. 

It finally seemed like they were getting the idea and were on track. So when Samu Manoa and Chris Wyles both ran in tries in a relatively short period of time, everything seemed to be getting back on track. The more the USA kept the ball, the more Uruguay tired over the play. This trend would have continued over the next 20 minutes if the USA didn't all of a sudden revert back to the dirge they were producing for much of the first 35 minutes.

Between the try of Wyles (53 minutes) and Ormaechea (73 minutes), the USA could manage no more than 3 consecutive phases. Uruguay who looked vulnerable when the USA got quick ball, got to play the game they wanted it. With plenty of set pieces and scrums whilst slowing it down.

Obviously no team means to make handling errors. But against a side who's main weapon is the scrum and appeared to be buckling mid way through the match at any sign of quick ball retention and phase play is a time when it's especially important not to make them.

The other thing that was cause for the struggle was the ease of which the Eagles let Uruguay score points. Whilst there was little most of the team could do about the scrum being so poor in the last quarter, there were a dozen points that were simply unforced individual errors.

The worst of the lot came from captain Todd Clever, who had a pretty bad game all around that included a couple of handling errors. Immediately after Uruguay had gone down to 14 men and the USA had got 3 points, Clever gifted los Teros the points straight back after getting penalised for a block. It was only the slightest shoulder in fairness, but as the most experienced player on the pitch he should have known better and that he would not get away with that in front of an away crowd.
GIF: Immediately after scoring 3 points, USA conceded
3 with Todd Clever penalised for blocking at the restart
There was another utterly poor passage of play where Toby L'Estrange chipped away first phase possession, the USA lost about 30 metres when Uruguay kicked it back, then the normally ever so dependable Chris Wyles uncharacteristically scuffed a kick which led to a penalty. All Uruguay did was just chip the ball the Eagles way and let them make the mistakes. There was another penalty conceded in their own half where the chasers were offside from a Petri box kick. L'Estrange, who alongside his half back partner didn't have a great game, again put his side under pressure kicking the ball out on the full which soon led to another penalty.
Video: Poor kicking offered a gift 3 points

There was also the try, where Tim Maupin and Folau Niua got in a muddle and made a mess of protecting the ball at the ruck. Well over half the Uruguay total came from these elementary unforced errors.
GIF: Maupin and Niua gave a lesson in how not to protect the
ball at the ruck which led to the Uruguay try
Under Mike Tolkin, the USA have a bizarre and unpredictable time, which must now be really frustrating their fans. Under him the Eagles delivered perhaps one of their greatest ever performances against Romania in 2012, that proved to be a false dawn. Another promising November and notably a strong effort from a weakened side against the Maori All Blacks has now been followed by this performance. The Tolkin era has delivered both some of the best and worst of Eagles performances.

This was the first time for 12 years that the USA have tripped up in Montevideo against Uruguay, and los Teros were a much higher regarded side back in 2002 whilst the Eagles are on paper much better side now. The average winning margin for the USA in the games since then had been 22 points. This has surely got to surpass some of last summer’s dross as the worst performance in Tolkin's time in charge.

Still looking at the game with a glass half full the USA can console themselves they at least didn't lose, and that they still have some quality players like Wyles and Manoa to make amends next week.


  1. Martin Dunham25/3/14 2:09 am

    Did the US play poorly? Yes. Poor decision making, lack of execution. But credit to Uruguay for capitalizing on opportunities. Surely I think it was foolish for people to expect blowouts and to label the Eagles as "heavy favorites". Sure, they are the favorited team but just four years ago this was a hugely competitive series as well, it took some late scoring in each game to put those matches away. Montevideo has historically been a tough place to travel to for any team, including Canada historically. Certainly in this day and age of easy access of film for analysis in addition to what's at stake, it's hard at this stage to name teams "heavy favorites". Also, the US has historically been poor at the start of seasons (not to mention slow match starters too). Now that they'll have another week together they can iron out some of the philosophies and concepts of the way they play the game, it seemed like not everyone is on the same page. It's tough to evolve as a team when there is not a lot of time to work together. Perfectly reasonable to expect a cleaner performance for the Eagles on Saturday, but if they're going to win this weekend, the key for me is they have to dominate the contact area. Simple but difficult to execute. If they can dominate the contact (scrum included for this spiel) area then life will be difficult for the Uruguayans because they haven't proven, outside of a good 9, that they have the skill and pace to beat the US out wide 1 on 1.

  2. Martin Dunham25/3/14 2:14 am

    I forgot to add on there , but I don't believe this to be the worst US performance, the USA-Japan game from last summer still takes the cake for me on that. There just seemed to be a lack of effort in that game and lack of heart that makes that more unbearable of a match for me.

  3. The game against Tonga last year was way more awful.