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Today in USA Eagles (Spoiler Alert)

(The above is the Sipi Tau, the Tongans' take on the pre-match war dance. It took me by surprise this morning. Very nice.)

Raise your hand if you were in line outside Fado before 8 am today to get ready for USA-Tonga in the Rugby World Cup. Yeah, that's right, I'm the only one with my hand raised, because I was the only one there at 7:45.


Behold, the hair deficit.

Luckily, a crowd of about a dozen folks showed up pretty quickly after that, including Michael Schieffer of Washington Rugby and Rob Farley, who played for the Eagles at RWC '91 in England.

What we saw was disappointing enough that even now, two hours after it ended, I'm still a bit lethargic. Bearing in mind that I'm no rugby expert, and that I was peppering MS with rules questions throughout, here's my basic analysis: USA played the part of the Chicago Bears. Excellent time of possession, an ugly but ultimately effective grinding style, success in sight and then the most eye-coveringly awful turnover you can imagine, leading to a quick score the other way. I swear I saw Rex Grossman on the USA sideline at least once. I know they're amateurs doing their level best, but it was hard not to be frustrated when victory kept dodging away in the form of dropped balls and passes slightly off-target.

(Blog interruption: Tonga was playing its first match of the Cup. The USA was playing on less than 96 hours rest after facing the defending champs. Meanwhile, Group A powers England and South Africa both get at least five days between games, usually more. Thanks, IRB. If you check the links below, the Eagles took pains not to blame the short turnaround for their performance today, which was classy. But still, c'mon.)

Anyhow, the USA fell into a miserable early deficit when the Tongans scored a try off the opening kickoff, mauling their way downfield in about 75 seconds. Not the way you want to start. The USA was also at an absurd hair disadvantage; the Tongans had an incredible array of fantastic 'dos, including a bushy explosion of curls, a modified mohawk, dreadlocks, a spiky pony tail thing and several other notable stylistic choices.

While the feed briefly conked out, Tonga scored on a penalty, and just like that it was 10-0. This was supposed to be the best chance for the Eagles, who had taken it to England in the second half just last week, and now all the momentum was on the wrong side. But by midway through the half, things had evened out, at least in theory. The USA was controlling possession; Falls Church native Mike Hercus had a long penalty try that went wide right, and but for some sloppy passes the USA could have gotten right back into it.

Penalties for each side made it 13-3 at the break; the Eagles' could have added a second penalty at the end of the half but opted for a line-out that quickly fizzled, summarizing the first half.

But the second half was a different matter. By early in the second half some Tongan hands were resting on Tongan knees. The Eagles seemed to make a strategic choice to put this game in the hands of their forwards, and so the match devolved into a slugfest: the USA would inch their way forward, only to be foiled at the last moment by an errant pass, at which point the attack would quickly be joined again, one blade of grass at a time. It was within 13-8 after a hardfought Mike MacDonald try; then a lightning Tonga counter made it 18-8. A TV replay brought the Eagles within 18-15 late in the match, and the Eagles were clearly controlling the pace of play. Optimism coursing through Fado. Then again, a turnover, a lightning counter, some ineffectual arm tackling and it was 25-15, as good as over. That was the final score.

"Very disappointing, but they played well," Farley said. "They've done some things very well, but when they had chances they didn't capitalize."

Tonga's population is about 115,000, and they--like the Eagles--only had two all-time RWC wins. This was a clear opportunity for the USA to get a result, and no matter what the explanation, it was a discouraging outcome. Next up is South Africa and then Samoa; both will be considerable challenges, to say the least. Like I said, I have a pit in my stomach that doesn't seem to be going away.

Times Online report

AFP report, with hair photos.

Reuters report

BBC report

(Also bear in mind that I don't really know what I'm talking about with this whole rugby thing, so apologies if I got any of the words wrong.)

By Dan Steinberg  |  September 12, 2007; 12:19 PM ET
Categories:  Rugby  
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Next: Reche Caldwell's Eyes

Comments

Find the YouTube video of the All Blacks and the Tonga teams doing the pre-game dances. Its just awesome.

Posted by: Brandon | September 12, 2007 1:23 PM | Report abuse

Eastern Motors needs to get these guys under contract...

Posted by: Rob Iola | September 12, 2007 1:40 PM | Report abuse

Dan - did you know the Japanese rugby side are nicknamed the Cherry Blossoms? That's awesome

Posted by: Kev | September 12, 2007 3:18 PM | Report abuse

Cheers for trying your damndest to explain to the uninformed masses the beautiful sport of rugger! Your boys platyed a hell of a game! Keep up the good work, I will tell everyone on www.ruggerspace.com to check out your column...

English Paul

Posted by: Paul Anderson | September 12, 2007 3:28 PM | Report abuse

Really wish the Eagles could've gotten a win, and really wish I could've watched this one this morning. the IRB needs to get their scheduling in order. I don't understand why the teams in each Pool play matches on different days. have them all play on the same day.

Posted by: DB | September 12, 2007 4:13 PM | Report abuse

Heartbreaking to lose to Tonga; 3 days rest is criminal scheduling...Go Eagles!!

Posted by: DT | September 12, 2007 5:18 PM | Report abuse

Am very excited to see some coverage of the RWC in the Post. Thanks Dan. It would be great to see more coverage of the event (and the sport) in the US. If more people in the US saw a game and got excited by it, then you may get more people playing rugby which in the long term could result in a stronger US national team.
PS. In respect of Brandon's post, it is definately worth checking out the YouTube clip of the 2003 RWC where NZ and Samoa simultaneously perform their respective war dances - I got goosebumps watching it!

Posted by: Jo | September 12, 2007 7:31 PM | Report abuse

Haka Shmaka. Tojo never made it to Darwin, but he sure ran over the Pacific Islanders.

Perhaps choreography is whats missing from the Eagles back line, bring on the Laker Girls!.

Eagles played tough, it would be more promising if these were mistakes of youth and they were 25. Give us Inakai.

Posted by: mike | September 13, 2007 9:41 AM | Report abuse

Thanks for giving the RWC some much needed coverage. I looked in the NYT after the opening weekend and the only rugby story was a piece about some museum in Paris that has a rugger exhibit during the tournament.
Why were you in line at 7:45. The match was shown live on Setanta at 5am. I just want to point out here that my team mates are a bunch of slackers. They were invited to watch at my house and I got up, made coffee and ended up watching the game alone.
Go Eagles!

Posted by: Mic | September 13, 2007 12:32 PM | Report abuse

There's a great blog out there called with-malice.com . It's written by an expatriate Aussie, and he covers the hakas and everything else about the sport.

Posted by: Extra P. | September 13, 2007 12:42 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for the coverage Washington Post- someday we will have front-page rugby coverage in this country. As a former Potomac AC player, I am gald to see the Post taking a lead. I live in LA now, where many of the US Eagles live and we have had no coverage in the LA Times- sad. The Eagles are playing tremendously well, and when you look at their results from the last few years, their performance in the RWC is even more remarkable- good on ya,boys- GO EAGLES!

Posted by: Ruud Dog | September 13, 2007 3:18 PM | Report abuse

Is it just me or are the Irish the world's most depressing commentator's? The winning team never plays well, its the losing team us terrible [fill in other word].

Dan: lines were short at Fado because thanks to the growth of the game and the fact that it has fans in every corner, matches are now available over most satellites and on the Internet. Still expensive but much cheaper than watching in a bar. Plus it was a weekday.

High School Coach


Posted by: Crazy Commentators | September 13, 2007 5:24 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for covering the RWC; I have passed your blog onto fellow ruggers. The US play this year has been great to watch compared to their previous efforts in other world cups. The sport is largely an amateur sport in the US, so they have an uphill battle compared to those that are compromised mostly of professionals. That being said, the sport is growing in leaps in bounds through out the country and your column only helps to promote the game.

Go Eagles beat Samoa

Posted by: DR | September 13, 2007 6:52 PM | Report abuse

http://youtube.com/watch?v=-_BCKZqDLUM

That's the Haka vs. the Sipi Tau. The crowd went absolutely nuts as both sides were facing off.

Posted by: PenguinSix | September 14, 2007 7:38 AM | Report abuse

Would you pay a $20 cover to watch the NCAA Play in game at 7AM?

BTW no cover to watch the games at My Bros. Place at 2nd & D almost free happy hour beer.

Posted by: Larkey | September 14, 2007 9:24 AM | Report abuse

I've been watching most of it via TVAnts

Posted by: PenguinSix | September 14, 2007 6:02 PM | Report abuse

After last nights shellacking of England by South Africa, every team should now be fearing the Springboks,right to the finals.From an American in Paris who has seen nearly every game so far.

Posted by: Lee Graham | September 15, 2007 1:54 AM | Report abuse

It is not necessarily accurate to try and make a 1 to 1 comparison between USA Rugby and Tongan Rugby. Tongans start playing rugby an early age (in bare feet!) and are an exceptionally big, strong, and athletic group of rugby players. In fact, Jonah Lomu was of Tongan descent.

Furthermore, Tonga may only have two RWC victories in its history, but they routinely play the role of "giant killers" and have won big games versus teams like Samoa and Fiji.

The Eagles decided to keep the game in close with the forwards because their backs were simply overmatched versus a very good Tongan backline. The short turnaround versus England, the banning of Paul Emerick, and some horrible tactical decisions by the Eagles (A flanker kicking inside the Tongan 22? Come on!) were all factors that contributed to this loss, but the bottomline is that the Eagles weren't the best team on the pitch against a strong Tongan side.

Posted by: Todd | September 21, 2007 7:15 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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