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Today in Eagles (Spoiler Alert)

With Goff momentarily down for the count (but he already managed to file his story for the paper!!!!), I'm going to post my admittedly ignorant take on the USA's Rugby World Cup match from this morning. I know of at least five Insider readers with a rugby interest, so I figured why not. If you're not interested, carry on. I promise, RWC will be banished from this space soon enough.

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

Behold, the hair deficit.

Anyhow, 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.

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; 12:37 PM ET
Categories:  Misc.  
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Thanks for the coverage, It's very sad that the 3rd biggest sporting event in the world, behind olympics and soccer world cup is nowhere on the radar of our mainstream media.

Posted by: Ryan | September 12, 2007 1:01 PM | Report abuse

Thanks, Steinz...couldn't make it to Fado for this one, since I'll be leaving the office at 5:00 on the dot to make my way to Lot 8.

Posted by: EdTheRed | September 12, 2007 1:28 PM | Report abuse

I bought an ITVN box and am paying for a Setanta subscription so I can watch the World Cup, Super 14, and any other rugby that's broadcast.

I am shocked that rugby isn't more popular in the US. To me it has all the best elements of American football, and those of soccer as well.

Until the US pays more attention to the sport, we will never be real players on the world stage. We send amateurs to face professionals. Until we make serious changes, we will forever be best described as 'plucky'.

Posted by: MattM | September 12, 2007 2:07 PM | Report abuse

I forgot to add that I MUCH prefer the 'Ka Mate ' version of the All Blacks haka to the Tongan and Fijian varieties.

Posted by: MattM | September 12, 2007 2:12 PM | Report abuse

Umm, can someone explain why just there is rugby coverage in the "soccer insider"?

It's not the "sports not popular in the US insider" or it could include cricket or hurling maybe.

I don't have anything against Rugby, just a fan of accuracy in labeling.

As to english media coverage, I watched Sky sports news on FSC on Saturday night. They did not cover the RWC at all. They ran scores on their super busy crawl(s) but the only mention was when they were showing the Sunday papers. And even then it was clear that the RWC was about third in the papers, after Euro qualifiers and test cricket.

Posted by: SeanT | September 12, 2007 2:47 PM | Report abuse

I guess I don't super-mind rugby coverage here but I would be dissapoiinted if it turned into "all sports not popular in los estados unidos".

I have to disagree with the statement that the RWC is the third most popular (important?) Event in the world after WC and olympics. Rugby follows the union jack-who takes ot seriously-new zealand, aussies, various oceania countries, UK? I lived in the UK two RWCs ago and while people opaid attention it is nothing like the WC.

Posted by: just saying | September 12, 2007 3:06 PM | Report abuse

Good exposure for rugby - what the hell?
I'm not French but, I know I caught a "Victory or Death" in their towards the end. Love that commitment.

Posted by: marksman | September 12, 2007 5:01 PM | Report abuse

No no no - good analysis here.

The boys tried their level best, but like you said are mostly amateurs going against full of professionals who compete in competitive leagues (five of the Eagles are pros, but not quite the same).

Also, the mistakes showed me a team that also probably weren't all quite on the same wavelength, but seeing as how they only had one warmup match together as opposed to four or five for most of the other countries in this competition, it's not all that surprising.

All in all, a letdown. But they've got to get themselves up for their match against Samoa, which will be even more physical and hard-hitting than the Tonga match was.

Posted by: Bison1997 | September 12, 2007 5:31 PM | Report abuse

I didn't even know until recently that USA has a Rugby national team. I am not a fan of Rugby but it's much more exciting than American Football or Baseball and Criket. Nothing can comepare to Football meaning Soccer.

Posted by: dorjee | October 13, 2007 12:06 PM | Report abuse

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