97-0 and 45-3. These are the scores from the first two games of the Junior World Championships that Team USA played against South Africa and France. USA enters into their last game of pool play 0-2 and they still have not been able to gather the concept of playing as a team with cohesion. When the USA played South Africa on June 5th, and lost 97-0, the South African team was just top to bottom better team than the USA. The South Africans have a much longer history of success with rugby, and have a deeper connection to rugby than the USA because it is one of their primary sports. While still painful for loss it can be excused.
Enter June 9th. USA played France for the second round of pool play. Within the first 15 minutes of play you can already seen the difference between the USA and the world. The lack cohesion is extremely apparent. Multiple knocks by fullback, Conor Keans, which costs an opportunity for continuous advancement. Within 20 minutes of the game, you see the USA lose a scoring opportunity when scrumhalf, Tom Bliss, has a break away and knocks the ball in the try zone to create the turnover for the USA team. Before half time the USA had lead in handling errors 6:2 in comparison to team France.
Before anyone tells you that this is a French team which has played together for a long time, and as a country has better experience in rugby, I can tell you from watching the film, this was not a significantly better French team in talent. France was none too smooth either. They played sloppy, made many bad lines that lead to poor passes. I have to give credit to the USA’s defense. In the first half keeping France to a 17-3 at half-time was extremely impressive.
Enter into the second half, the USA team looked like they were ready to bring the hammer to the French team. In a strong goal-line stand, the USA forwards prevented multiple attempts for the French forwards to score from just outside the goal-line. If not for a missed tackle by USA lock, Christian Ostberg, which opened up a hole for French wing, Gabriel Lacroix, to score. The first 20 minutes of the second half was made up of missed tackles that led to scoring opportunities for France. The final 20 minutes of the second half was made up of the USA forwards, who had played well for much of the game, getting absolutely annihilated in the scrums. Notably in the 52 minute of the game, the USA was in position to score their first try of the championships, and lost the ball in a knock. With the opportunity to win the scrum and set up for the try, the USA team got run over by an overpowering French front 8 and lost the scrum and their one scoring advantage.
The USA U-20 All-Stars are still letting the game get into their heads. They are thinking too much, and it’s wearing them down more than the opponents. Mental errors that lead to high penalties, high amount of handling errors, and just poor discipline, is a result of letting the game move too fast for them. I place the errors on head coach, Jason Kelly, and lack of experience from the USA team. Regardless, these players are considered the future stars and potential Olympic team participants for the USA in the near future. Hopefully with this last game against England today, they will be able to put something together that can bring the lessons of the last two games together.
USA plays England at 11:45am today for the final game of pool play. Can be seen at IRB.com.
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