The Men’s Eagles arrived in Kumagaya on longer rest than their opponent Argentina who faced a strong England squad only four days prior. Despite the imbalance, Los Pumas showed their endurance against a hungry United States team looking to upset here in Japan. Moreover, this match marked the third-place position in Pool C and automatic qualification for Rugby World Cup 2023 in France. The Eagles showed improvement from the early rounds with offensive strides starting to click, but eventually fell in the end, 47-17.
“Disappointed in the outcome, but really proud of the effort.” Head Coach Gary Gold noted post-match, “I think you can see how hard the guys played and how hard they worked. We fought back really well at the end of the first half, which makes me very very proud. Similar situation in the second half where we lost our way a bit but carried on the fight.”
In reflection, it will be a very profitable exercise. This is what we want to do, we want to play three teams who are top ten in the world.”
In a special match for #8 Cam Dolan earning his 50th cap and becoming only the 11th Men’s Eagle to do so, the crowd was able to salute the athlete as he ran on to the field pre-anthems by himself. A worthy recognition for the NOLA Gold stand out.
The USA hunger for an upset became apparent early when Hanco Germishuys reeled in the opening kickoff and plowed right into Argentina tackles, breaking through for meters gained. A small shuffle early saw Martin Iosefo sub in for Paul Lasike after a needed blood sub where Iosefo made an immediate impact with a sprint down the line. Back and forth line outs would follow and soon after so did a wrapped up Lasike. From the looks of it, the United States were able to set pace early.
First points looked to come from Argentina attempting to dot down under the posts, but a TMO review showed Tony Lamborn was able to hold Felippe Ezcurra up in goal. No try called. The USA soon followed with a drive of their own where Bryce Campbell broke tackles on the wing and moved the ball back across field. AJ MacGinty looked to use his quick feet for space and pass out wide but it fell just short of Marcel Brache and conceded the knock on. The Eagles however seemed to find a better offensive rhythm in game three here.
Captain Blaine Scully commented on his team’s progression, “I think early we were able to find our foothold. We were able to have a pretty good amount of possession inside the 22 although we weren’t able to convert. We were able to weather some storms and create some pressure, ended up getting that try at the end of the first half.”
The opening try would eventually fall to Argentina in the 19th minute. The Pumas found themselves in space quite often in the first half sprinting away to crowd roars. Despite a valiant chase from Mike Te’o, Nicolas Sanchez found the corner and added five for Argentina. Not long after, the kick and chase into the endzone worked in their favor and the USA were suddenly down 0-19 with Joaquin Tuclet earning back-to-back tries.
USA would carry momentum into halftime however, after a brilliant grubber kick from AJ MacGinty into the try zone. Captain Blaine Scully then outpaced his defender to reach the ball and dot down. Noticeably amped up after the score, Scully threw his hands in the air and saluted the USA fans in the stands ahead. With time expired the teams went into break.
The second half spelled more of the same for Argentina as Juan Cruz Mallia came out trucking and burned the USA for a pair of tries, earning him man of the match. Much coming off the USA line out where the Eagles struggled. Throughout the match, the United States would lose five of their own lineouts.
Gold then went to the bench early on in the second half to bring fresh legs and pace into the game. That showed immediately with Olive Kilifi pressing hard on the gain line and moving the ball. USA was given advantage from the line out and looked to have a try under posts, but a held-up call brought it back. Given advantage, the Eagles had another go at it, only this time rolling into touch and allowing Argentina to turn the tables for another breakaway try. Argentina found themselves on the run quite a bit over the full 80 minutes.
“I think we started the second half really well,” added Scully, “We won a kick off and had a scrum, ended up getting very deep inside their territory, but turned the ball over with a really elusive runner where we’re all of a sudden back inside our own 22 and that’s when momentum kicks back. That happened two or three times in pretty quick succession.”
With time closing in, the last gasp emerged from the United States. Off the boot of MacGinty, the Eagles were able to collect space quickly quite a few times with the kick to touch. Finally, in the 60th minute, Lasike capitalized with a TMO awarded try. USA chipping away late, down 12-40.
The game progressed a bit chaotic in the end with fast turnovers at midfield and a few dashing attempts. Clearly exhausted on both sides, the scrambles looked to work in the Eagle favor as most possession was held on the USA side for the final few minutes.
Later resulting in an 83’ try from Scully as he was found undefended on the wing and collecting a rainbow pass for points. The gong sounds, Argentina win and earn Rugby World Cup 2023 qualification. The final try supported better stats for the United States here in game three in terms of offense. As possession, territory and carries were split evenly with the Pumas, marking the Eagles have started to build their attacking threat more noticeably.
The final match for the United States will come in Hanazono against Tonga on Sunday Oct. 13th. Both teams enter without a win here in Japan, setting the stage for a battle on NBC Sports Network at 1:45AM ET.