As always we start the New Year looking back over the past twelve months and handing out our verdict on the top ten teams, as well as Canada, USA and Georgia, and what they got out of the year on a score out of ten. We start off in the Americas looking at our own backyard, then move South of the Equator to the “Big Three”.We then journey back North in July to look at the Six Nations Competitors as the Northern Hemisphere season ends.
We’ll be the first to admit it’s completely subjective based on what we saw and where in our humble opinions it leaves the teams heading into 2018. We highlight the match we most enjoyed from each of the teams and we try to pick the player who made the greatest contribution to their national cause in 2017 as well as the player that we feel is most likely to catch the eye in 2018. So take from it what you will but without any further ado let’s get into it in part 3 where we take a look at how the USA fared.
USA – 7/10
Considering that the USA had to change coaches halfway through 2017, their results have still been heartening for their supporters as six solid wins were offset by 3 narrow losses, with the exception of the schooling they received from Ireland in June and two draws. A very successful Americas Rugby Championship got their 2017 campaign underway and they emerged as impressive champions, winning four out of their five matches and remaining undefeated, albeit having to settle for a draw with Argentina in their final match.
This sense of optimism was brought to a screeching halt as an Irish developmental side put them to the sword in June, and a feisty and challenging Georgian team then got the better of them a week later. They ended the month with a difficult home and away two game series against Canada in order to qualify for the 2019 World Cup. The first match away to Canada was a tough and gruelling encounter but was definitely up to the standard of this age-old fierce rivalry between the two North American sides who battled it out to a nail-biting draw. The return leg in the US saw the Americans completely dismantle Canada’s challenge in one of their most convincing performances of the year as they brushed Canada aside 52-16, perhaps in part inspired to provide veteran flanker Todd Clever with a memorable sendoff in his 72nd and final Test for the Eagles. Often referred to as Captain America after leading his side in over 50 Test matches, the sometimes controversial but always colorful and committed Clever leaves behind a huge hole in the team that it will be hard to fill.
In comparison to many of the other Tier Two nations, the USA had a relatively quiet November Test series, as they only played Germany and Georgia. Furthermore, the Eagles lost their Kiwi Coach, John Mitchell to South African Super Rugby franchise the Stormers in the summer. His replacement South African Gary Gold had to hit the ground running. The Americans got off to a shaky start in their first match against Germany, but soon recovered by the second half to put the match completely out of reach of the Germans by a healthy margin. Despite losing to Georgia, in our opinion the Eagles put in their best performance of the year in only their second outing with their new Coach. Tbilisi as the home stadium of the Georgian team has become an exceptionally challenging venue for visiting teams. With a loud and passionate cauldron of fervent local supporters, many teams find Tbilisi an intimidating place to play. To the Americans credit they held their own and put in a solid performance that saw them lose by just one point.
Despite losing veterans like Todd Clever, the Americans have a promising young team that with the right coaching has shown plenty of promise. They are still plagued by ill discipline at times, and if they are to challenge for the top spots in Tier Two this is one area in particular they will really need to address, along with more consistent execution in the set pieces. Still they are worthy of their spot as the first qualifiers from the Americas for next year’s World Cup (Argentina had already qualified as a result of finishing fourth in the last tournament). This year’s Americas Rugby Championship should be another positive experience for the Eagles and one where they really develop some structure and depth to their squad ahead of the World Cup. There is no doubt that the USA is making a real committment to growing the game at the domestic level and consequently it would appear that a successful national team is seen as a key component of this effort. As a result the Eagles will not be short on access to the resources required, both in terms of personnel and finance to make this ambition a reality going into next year’s showcase tournament in Japan.
Match of the Year – Georgia vs USA – November 25th – Tibilisi – Georgia 21/USA 20. The thriller in the Caucasus had all the intensity and passion of a top-level Test match. Highly physical and with some exceptional commitment from both sides, a real never say die attitude from the Americans saw them claw their way back into the match after three tries in succession by the Georgians in the second quarter of the first half seemed to seal the Eagles fate. It was a powerful comeback that showed the resilience and heart of this young American side, as the Georgians found themselves under intense pressure for the remainder of the match. In short, write this team off at your peril and we expect to see more of the same this year, with them once again tipped as joint favourites with Argentina in the forthcoming Americans Rugby Championship starting next month.
Player of the year – AJ MacGinty. As the Eagles leading point scorer in 2017, MacGinty made his mark and then some. The talented Irish-born fly half provided his team with an exceptionally reliable source of points from the kicking tee and his placekicking and eye for opportunity was the spark that set in motion some of the Eagles most exciting scores in 2017. Always willing to put his body on the line MacGinty has become a vital part of the Eagles set up and will play a key role in shaping the development and success of the squad in the countdown to the World Cup in Japan next year.
Player to watch in 2018 – Mike Te’o. Equally at home on the wing or at fullback Te’o possesses some silky running skills that are a joy to watch. A real speedster who is only going to get better the more exposure he gets, this is a player we expect to see making headlines for the Eagles in 2018.
We end this report card with highlights from the Eagles best game of the year in our opinion, their final match of the year against Georgia. Although the result in Tbilisi ended in a loss for the Americans by a mere point it was balanced on a knife-edge as the Americans fought back in the second half and managed to keep the Georgians scoreless for the full final forty minutes of the match. While it was a loss for the Eagles their comeback in the second half set against the backdrop of the cauldron that Tbilisi has become, showed enormous character in the face of adversity by the Eagles, something which will serve them well in 2018.
To be continued – up next Georgia!