The USA Rugby Men’s National Team, the Eagles, scored six tries and 26 unanswered points to put rivals Russia away 40-26 at Eirias Park Friday, marking a strong start to the team’s November Tour.
Four Eagles (John Quill, Toby L’Estrange, Cornelius Dirksen, and Zach Fenoglio) earned their first international caps against Russia, a promising sign for the future of head coach Mike Tolkin’s team.
Tolkin after the game praised his side’s defense and set piece. The scrum has been an issue for the Eagles in recent years, but it was very proficient against a big Russian pack on Friday. Experience in the front rowers Shawn Pittman, Chris Biller, and Eric Fry made a big difference and perhaps surprised the Russians who got the better of the USA pack in their Rugby World Cup matchup last year. It comes down to excellent preparation, said Tolkin.
“All of our coaches did a great job preparing their respective units,” Tolkin said of his staff's effort. There were improvements across the board from the June tests, but the scrum and the kicking game were outstanding against Russia.
A precise and effective kicking battle and the speed and intensity of the USA forwards knocked the Russians out of rhythm early. The work of loose forwards Scott LaValla, debutant John Quill, and captain Todd Clever set a physical tone that Russia struggled to keep up with.
Clever said after the game that he was proud of the effort from the forwards and praised the peppy backline including a two-try performance by Robbie Shaw.
Five of the six USA tries were converted by Saracens fullback Chris Wyles, effectively answering any questions about who would take kicking duties for the Eagles. Wyles was also lethal kicking out of hand.
To open the scoring Eric Fry rumbled over in the 6th minute to give the USA the lead that his side would not relinquish, but the Eagles only held a 7-6 lead after 17 minutes due to two Russian penalties.
The tipping point in the match came from a turnover created by the Eagle forwards that led to a lineout. A crisp throw from Chris Biller enabled the backs to move it to debutant Toby L’Estrange. A dummy to Andrew Suniula forced the Russian defense to bite, and L’Estrange cruised through for the score. Tolkin was happy with the rookie flyhalf’s debut.
“Toby was our playmaker at 10. He was sharp in his passing and was good with his tactical kicking as well. He’s got a lot of talent outside of him and he did well to get the ball out there,” Tolkin said.
After the L’Estrange try, a scary moment came for the Eagles and rugby fans everywhere when USA captain Todd Clever went down after taking a Russian head to his cheek. After some attention from the trainers, Clever returned to the game and immediately rallied his troops, barking at the forwards not five seconds after the trainers left him.
Big lock forward Brian Doyle chimed in next, rumbling over for a five-pointer after an excellent maul by his pack. Three tries to zero after 40 minutes was a good way to go into the locker room at halftime.
Uneasy moments early in the second half subsided for the USA as Wyles capitalized on a disorganized Russian defense, collecting a well-timed pass from Shaw to score untouched.
Shaw scored the balance of the tries, both from short range and both well deserved. Shaw marshaled the troops into the Russian 22 and stretched the defense to the left side of the field. Russia was slow to organize its defense so Shaw backed himself to score and darted through to the try line.
Eight minutes later the Eagles were once again in the Russian half and earned an advantage call. Luke Hume, the scrappy winger, had a shot himself through traffic in midfield. He put in the biggest fend of the game, leveling his would-be defender and snaking through for a few meters. Shaw ran in support and collected an excellent Hume offload to score a beauty.
Russia mounted a comeback attempt with head coach Kingsley Jones throwing a mountain of subs on the field. They made an impact immediately, but it was too little, too late. The Eagles had the psychological edge and were able to hang on despite some shaky moments.
Twenty-six unanswered points, four new caps, and five of six on conversions. The numbers look very good for the Eagles who were dominant in virtually every phase of the game. However, if there was a downside, it would be the wobbly finish, but it did provide some teachable moments for the younger Eagles.
Pittman, LaValla, and Paul Emerick stepped up in the last ten minutes and set a positive example for the younger players. Pittman caused a turnover that prevented a score and so did LaValla. Emerick slowed Russian ball down by powering through a ruck and disrupting the Russian halfback who threw an errant pass.
Overall though, it’s hard to fault a 40-point effort against an emerging rival and massive improvements in kicking and in the set piece.
Next up for the Eagles is Tonga on Saturday November 17 at 6 p.m. GMT (1 p.m. EST).
Tonga is a team that can punish any lack in concentration, and Tolkin is well aware of what they can do.
“Tonga is a physical side so we have to keep our defensive shape against them, we have to keep defenders in front of them,” the coach said.
But with a dominant display to kick off the tour, it looks very promising for the USA over the next two weeks.
For more information about the November Tour, please visit http://bit.ly/EyeonthEaglesMensFallTour.
15 Chris Wyles (Saracens)
14 Cornelius Dirksen (Life University)
13 Paul Emerick (London Wasps)
12 Andrew Suniula (Chicago Griffins) (Roland Suniula, 55')
11 Luke Home (Old Blue)
10 Toby L’Estrange (New York Athletic Club)
9 Robbie Shaw (Richmond) (Petri, 65')
1 Shawn Pittman (At-Large)
2 Chris Biller (At-Large) (Fenoglio, 60')
3 Eric Fry (Manawatu)
4 Brian Doyle (New York Athletic Club) (Basauri, 60')
5 Louis Stanfill (Rangers Rugby Vicenza)
6 Scott LaValla (Stade Francais)
7 John Quill (Boston Rugby)
8 *Todd Clever (NTT Shining Arcs – Japan) (Dahl, 55')
16 Zach Fenoglio (Glendale Raptors)
17 Nick Wallace (St. Mary’s College – California)
18 Tony Purpura (Boston Rugby)
19 Inaki Basauri (Tarbes)
20 Peter Dahl (Belmont Shore)
21 Mike Petri (New York Athletic Club)
22 Roland Suniula (FC Auch Gers)
23 Gearoid McDonald (Old Belvedere)
Tries: Fry (6’), L’Estrange (17’), Doyle (36’), Wyles (46’), Shaw (50’,58’)
Conversions: Wyles (6’,19’,37’,48’,50’)
Tries: Ostroushko, Temnov 2
Pens: Klyuchnikov 3
Tries: Fry, L'Estrange, Doyle, Wyles, Shaw 2
Cons: Wyles 5
Russia: 15 Igor Klyuchnikov, 14 Denis Simplikevich, 13 Vasily Artemyev, 12 Alexey Makovetskiy, 11 Vladimir Ostroushko, 10 Sergey Sugrobov, 9 Alexey Shcherban, 8 Victor Gresev, 7 Pavel Butenko, 6 Andrey Temnov, 5 Kirill Kulemin, 4 Alexander Voytov (capt), 3 Evgeny Pronenko, 2 Valery Tsnobiladze, 1 Grigory Tsnobiladze.
Replacements: 16 Vladislav Korshunov, 17 Alexey Volkov, 18 Innokentiy Zykov, 19 Andrey Garbuzov, 20 Ramil Gaysin, 21 Gleb Babkin, 22 Vladimir Boltenkov, 23 Dmitry Gerasimov.
USA: 15 Chris Wyles, 14 Cornelius Dirksen, 13 Paul Emerick, 12 Andrew Suniula, 11 Luke Hume, 10 Toby L'Estrange, 9 Robbie Shaw, 8 Todd Clever (capt), 7 John Quill, 6 Scott LaValla, 5 Louis Stanfill, 4 Brian Doyle, 3 Eric Fry, 2 Chris Biller, 1 Shawn Pittman.
Replacements: 16 Zachary Fenoglio, 17 Nick Wallace, 18 Tony Purpura, 19 Inaki Basauri, 20 Peter Dahl, 21 Mike Petri, 22 Rolan Suniula, 23 Gearoid McDonald.
Referee: Leighton Hodges (Wales)
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