KINGSTON, Ontario — The USA Eagles opened their 2012 international campaign, and coach Mike Tolkin’s era at the helm, with a 28-25 loss to Canada in a hot and damp Kingston, Ontario.
It was a match that was riddled with errors on both sides, and at times looked like it could have gone either way. However, poor tackling and handling errors would mark the Eagles demise in an otherwise hard-fought encounter. BYU’s Shawn Davies did not factor into the loss.
Canada came out of the gates strong, and used their big runners to attack Will Holder who made his debut at flyhalf for the Eagles. Holder would be exposed out of position a few times early in the match, one of which led to a try by Canadian flyhalf Matt Evans.
The USA attack was eager to run as well. Tolkin’s team made good on his promise to play a more open game of rugby, and it paid dividends when Chris Wyles received a nifty pass from Paul Emerick, pinned his man, and put debutant Luke Hume into space for a try in the corner. Holder’s kick from the touchline missed and it was 7-5 Canada.
Tolkin noted his player’s ability to buy into the team’s new pattern of play as a real highlight of the day.
“I thought our attacking shape was good, and that guys were comfortable with it,” said Tolkin. “We had a few moments where we got out of shape, but we stuck with our attacking philosophy and scored a few tries off of it.”
Canada struck right back with a try from Ciaran Hearn, who exposed an overlap in numbers out on the wing. Canada took a 14-5 lead and it began to look as though the USA was in for a long day at the office.
However, the US defense adjusted and begin to put the Canadians under pressure causing many turnovers and eventually earning a penalty for Holder to kick. It was 14-8 following the penalty, and for the next 10 minutes both teams exchanged penalties to make it 17-11 with 15 minutes left in the first period.
The Eagles were put under more pressure by the Canadian attack, but a Todd Clever turnover sparked one of the most exciting phases of the game, a passage that would tell the story of the whole match: plenty of opportunities, but opportunities lost.
Following the turnover, Clever made a break up the middle of the field, shedding of a few would-be tacklers. Brian Doyle (who had a productive match on debut in the second row) took a pass from Clever to gain more Canadian territory before offloading back to Clever who had plenty of space to run. However, Clever had to lay out in order to corral Doyle’s pass, and the momentum was stymied. Like many phases for the Eagles, had the pass been spot on, Clever would have been off to the races.
The Eagles built on those phases though, and soon found themselves knocking on the Canadian goal line again. James Paterson then inserted himself in the 9-10 channel, and Holder offloaded a sweet little inside pass to Paterson who hit the gap at full pace. The U.S. took their first and only lead of the game following the conversion, 18-17. Before the half, Prichard hit another penalty for Canada, taking the lead into halftime 20-18.
The second stanza would be much slower with both teams trying to sort out the issues of the first half, but it was Canada who enjoyed most of the possession for the opening 20 minutes.
The U.S. defense held on while Canada made multiple inroads into the USA red-zone, but managed to escape with only three points scored against. Holder barely missed a penalty, which could have brought the Eagles within two, and still anyone’s game to play for.
The deathblow came when Luke Hume attempted to find touch from deep in his own territory following a missed Canadian penalty.
Hume’s kick wouldn’t find touch however, and the Canadians attached from the missed opportunity. Captain Aaron Carpenter received a pass that caught the Eagles’ defense napping and dotted down for the try to put Canada on top by 10.
The U.S. wasn’t done attacking however, and some good tactical kicking gave the Eagles a lineout deep in Canadian territory with only five minutes left to play.
The Americans built more phases off the lineout and it looked like the Eagles had scored a try in the corner, but referee Marius Jonker deemed it held up, and brought play back to across the field for a penalty, where the Scott LaValla powered in for a try off the quick tap. Holder’s kick was good, but time expired before the Eagles could mount another attack.
Tolkin said there were some positives out there, but he expects more precision in the coming weeks.
“That’s the type of game we need to win,” he said. “It wasn’t Canada’s strongest side, and we need to be able to put teams like that away. It’s a starting point though, and gives us some good stuff to work toward.”
The Eagles now move to Glendale, Colo., where they will take on Georgia at Infinity Park on Saturday, June 16. Click HERE for tickets.