As the United States men’s national rugby team adjusts to a lot of new in its ranks, there are going to be plenty of growing pains.
While a lopsided loss at Portugal isn’t ideal from a U.S. perspective, of course, the Eagles — forced to re-enter a sort of development stage after failing to earn a berth to the 2023 Rugby World Cup — are in a different state than they usually are at the moment, so outlooks have to be realistic.
Still, there were a lot of things in Algarve that could’ve been a lot better.
Following a solid start to a new age of American rugby on an international stage earlier this month, the U.S.’ defeat to the Lobos showed that there’s still a long way to go, but an advantage in the Eagles’ favour is that they still have plenty of time to work with.
All that’s left to do next is finish a three-game trip abroad on a high note, improve and continue cohesion and make the next steps toward building back a better future for Eagles rugby
Here’s a look back at the middle match of the United States’ tour of Europe this past weekend, where Portugal ran away with the game late to get a confidence booster ahead of the RWC:
Poor in Portugal
There’s little way to sugarcoat it: the Eagles frequently looked well behind the pace in the middle match of their European tour in a 46-20 defeat, a bit of a deflating result following the U.S.’ strong start to the era of new coach Scott Lawrence with victory away at Romania this past weekend. It was the Americans’ most points allowed in a match since New Zealand walloped them to the tune of 104 points in October 2021 for their biggest-ever loss, and though the Lobos obviously weren’t at that level of power this past weekend, it was still a frustrating result for the visitors — especially considering that Portugal was the team that officially knocked the U.S. out of qualifying for the Rugby World Cup at the Final Qualification Tournament last November. Though the Eagles did strike first in the match through a Luke Carty penalty in the 10th minute, first-half tries from Portugal’s Joris Moura (on his international debut), Rodrigo Marta and Tomas Appleton contributed to the host’s 22-13 halftime advantage, though the U.S. was at least within striking distance following a Cam Dolan try and two more successful kicks (one conversion, one penalty) from Carty. A penalty try just a few minutes after the intermission cut the Lobos’ lead to 22-20 and made it appear as if the Americans were on the rise and had the momentum on their side with a temporary man advantage, but 24 unanswered points followed from Portugal in a run that included Marta getting his second try, a penalty try of their own given up by the Americans and the Lobos nearly closing out the match with a spectacular try that was taken back due to a player stepping into touch. Portugal is going back to the World Cup for just the second time in its history for a reason — a potent attack, as shown by its performance this weekend, is a major reason why — but if the U.S. wanted to rid itself of a few of the demons from Dubai by at least getting one back over the Lobos ahead of their RWC preparations, it failed to do so.
You’re going to want to keep an eye on Marta, who plays at club level for French second-division side US Dax, at the RWC. Already Portugal’s all-time tries leader at the age of just 23 (!), the winger has an incredible 27 tries in 30 caps for the Lobos and will get to play in his first World Cup for his country in just a few weeks and his two-try performance against the Eagles was perhaps an indication of what’s to come in Pool C play in France. His first try, scored in the 30th minute while the U.S. held a 13-7 advantage, was the spark behind Portugal’s eventual iron grip on the game for much of the rest of the way; after Nuno Sousa Guedes burst through the Americans’ defence and saw a sprinting Marta peeling down the left side, he kicked the try-scorer through and gave him enough space to work with past the Eagles’ defence to finish the job and secure five points. Then in the 64th minute, with the Lobos beginning to pull away and make their major second-half charge, Marta embarked on a remarkable solo run on a line break starting from roughly the halfway line, weaving through the U.S.’ final players standing in his way for nought to up his team’s lead to 34-20, putting the Eagles in an even deeper hole that only got deeper as the match wore on. Routinely capable of turning games upside down on his own accord (he scored four tries in Portugal’s rout over Poland in the Rugby Europe Championship earlier in the year), Marta is a dangerous man and will continue to be as Portugal looks to play spoiler at the RWC, while teams like the U.S. are learning the hard way the type of damage that he can do on the pitch.
A Step Backward?
Source : Is it time for alarm yet if you’re USA Rugby? The definitive answer to that after defeat against a Portugal side that’s been on a roll for much of the past year is, no, of course not. The time for that was the first time that the Lobos had beaten the Eagles in the past eight months, back in November to lose out on RWC qualification, as major coaching and personnel changes have occurred since, and the objective is now picking up the pieces and finding new figures to begin preparing for Australia 2027. Lawrence’s tenure, for how promising of a start it got off to with the Eagles’ win in Bucharest, is still in its very early days, and perhaps the drubbing in Portugal is a reversion back to reality and tempering expectations until consistent results arrive again with a fresh crop of players. Nine new Eagles debuted against Romania, and two more from Major League Rugby — Rugby New York prop Kaleb Geiger and Seattle Seawolves winger Lauina Futi — got their first international caps against Portugal, and expect more squad rotation to come as Lawrence figures out who and what works and who and what doesn’t for the long haul. The finale of the U.S.’ European tour should be a doozy and a massive test for all of the squad, though, regardless of international experience; a trip to Tbilisi to play another RWC participant in Georgia is on the docket next, coming immediately after the Lelos looked fantastic in their own fixture Saturday against Romania, stomping it 56-6 and handing Romania its largest defeat to a Tier 2 nation in 99 years. Getting acclimated, adjusted and being competitive against teams at the calibre of Georgia, Portugal, and the like is going to be obviously critical for the Americans as they attempt to recover from their RWC qualification nightmare, but if things don’t work right away, panic shouldn’t ensue. If they don’t work three or four years from now, when a trip to Australia is on the line? Then there should be some added concern.
Source : FLORUGUBY