Let’s be honest: the Eagles were probably not going to win their match against Italy last Saturday with 15 men on the pitch, let alone 13. That is definitely not to say that the Eagles can’t play with Italy. For the 45 minutes the match was level, the Eagles showed that they were just as good if not better than the Italians in many aspects of the game. The Italians overall, though, were more polished, especially in the scrum. Nine times out of 10 the Italians win the match, but the Eagles can now keep pace.
That is why the poor refereeing by Jerome Garces was extremely disappointing. The Eagles were already up against a tough side, but they weren’t served any favors by Garces. He consistently let the Italians get away with many things the Eagles got pinged for, while he also let the Italians get away with their tricks. To be fair, a lot of that has to do with the gap in experience between the Italians and the Eagles. If all the U.S. players had the opportunity to play a full club season as well as participate in the Six Nations, they may pick up similar tricks as well, but that is another argument entirely.
The Eagles were always going to commit more infractions than the Italians. Being outmatched in a lot of ways means that will naturally happen. Even the red cards to Andrew Suniula and Paul Emerick were a by product of the team’s frustration in being a bit outmatched (and having calls go against you certainly didn’t help). Let’s face it, the red cards were a little harsh, but the decision making on the part of Emerick and Suniula wasn’t the greatest either. That being said, however, the Italians were no angels themselves and did some things that could have also deserved a booking, or at least a penalty. The uneven nature of Garces was extremely frustrating.
But what was most disturbing about Garces’s performance was the attitude he took toward the match and the U.S. team. It was almost like he went into the match expecting the Eagles to commit one penalty after another and to play cynically. He called the match that way as a result. He may be a great ref for matches between Tier I nations, but he should have never been involved in this match.
The way the game was called is really representative of what is wrong with the structure of the IRB. There is a select group of countries that have a certain way of doing things and they aren’t open to any other possibilities, just like Garces was convinced that the Eagles couldn’t play any other way but cynically. Why would the U.S. pour resources into their national team programs when they know they are going to be treated like this by Tier I referees?
Hopefully the performance by the Eagles this summer gets them the respect they deserve.
Future Test Matches:
During the broadcast of the match, it was revealed that the Eagles will be playing Tonga, Russia, and Romania during their autumn tour of Europe. These are a great set of matches for the Eagles to see if this summer was a fluke or if this team is really on an upward trajectory. Most of the team showed really well during the assembly and Tolkin’s choices could be bolstered by the return of Taku Ngwenya and the long-awaited return of Samu Manoa. Even if those two don’t return (Ngwenya is almost near certain to return), the team looks strong and will have a great series of matches to prove themselves.
Over 17,000 fans packed into BBVA Compass Stadium to watch the match. That is the second time the city of Houston has provided a record crowd, so congratulations to them. Several factors went into the record attendance--the newness of the stadium and the big name opponent to name of few--but the fact that many local clubs and local sports fans were able to get out and support the team was a great thing to see. Hopefully Houston can get some more matches in the future, such as a Eagles Select XV match versus Mexico.
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