While I can be biased to the pack on almost every occasion this is one of the few times I feel it is deserved to say that the USA pack were the standout unit in this game.
Yes, there were a few times where the Georgian pack showed them up, but overall the pack is what kept the Americans in the fight. With not one but two rolling maul tries and another maul penalty, the US seemed to have a firm grasp on the lineout competition throughout the game. The scrum looked shaky at times even giving up a penalty try in the early minutes of the game but recovered decently well.
Late in the game with a new front row, the scrum looked to be weaker and resulted in a yellow card for Mo’ungaloa, who came on for Kilifi at loosehead. With Samu Manoa coming into the lineup, he added the level of experience needed for this pack to play at the level they did. Particularly since he plays against the majority of the Georgian team on a weekly basis in the French Top14. Overall I would give the USA pack a solid 80. They came to play and kept the US in the game for the majority of it.
Fitness. One of the main reasons I didn’t go any higher with the pack score was their fitness level. About halfway through the first half, you could visibly see some of the pack and a few backs were winded and slowing down resulting in shoddy play and giving up senseless penalties costing the US points and possession.
As fatigue set in, ball handling dropped and passing became inconsistent. Neither of which helped the US against a much more experienced team that also showed superior fitness. I don’t know if this stems from the level of play or minutes played by the squad but it definitely was a problem throughout the game. When substitutes did come on they were obviously fresh but even then only lasted about twenty solid minutes before fatigue was evident.
Many of USA’s players have visibly added on some weight and not in a good way causing the play to drop and gaps to appear. If the US wants to have a chance in 2019 this is a major issue that needs addressing.
Chemistry/Continuity. This is completely out of the team’s control but also mostly on USA Rugby to fix.
It seemed that the US was improving dramatically and was looking to continue the trend under the helm of head coach John Mitchell. This was until his untimely departure to another role with the South African side the Blue Bulls. Under Mitchell, the US won the Americas Rugby Championship and secured an early bid for the World Cup in 2019.
With his departure, Gary Gold was appointed the interim head coach for the Eagles just before the autumn international circuit. Without the continuity of their head coach the Eagles seemed in disarray from changing strategies on such short notice. On top of the leadership woes, the US lacked the team play chemistry that the Georgians possessed.
With a majority of their team playing either together or against each other in the French Top14, Georgia had the team chemistry to play a fluid game.
I am not a high-level coach but I do know that chemistry is instrumental in a successful team. In my opinion, there is no immediate fix for this besides a solid homegrown base of professional players which hopefully the new MLR can fix. I don’t expect the Eagles abroad to simply leave their top teams to come home for a brand new league, however, I do think that if enough players that are already playing abroad take part in the competition it can help to remedy this problem.
All in all, the coaching situation will be the make or break issue in the upcoming World Cup and only time will tell what USA Rugby will do about it.
Author: Connor Wilkins
I grew up in Alabama in the US and have played for the past 8 years starting with the Birmingham Vulcans then to Spring Hill College where I recently served as forwards coach. I love northern hemisphere rugby and I write mostly about American rugby and pack play.