The USA Men’s Eagles are down but not out.
With the Webb Ellis Cup on display two years before it will be awarded to the champion of rugby’s pinnacle event, a crowd of 5,258 at Blackbaud Stadium witnessed Canada defeat the United States, 27-9, Saturday night in the first match of a home-and-away Rugby World Cup qualifying series.
The winner on aggregate will take the Americas 1 direct qualification spot at the 2015 IRB Rugby World Cup, meaning the Americans must make up the 18-point deficit Saturday at Toronto’s BMO Field in order to avoid a subsequent series against Uruguay.
Canada did not waste any time getting on the scoreboard, as scrum half Phil Mack scored an exciting chip-and-chase try down the flank just 32 seconds after kickoff. James Pritchard’s ensuing conversion from a tight angle was successful, providing the Maple Leafs with an early 7-0 lead.
Pritchard extended the margin to 13-0 entering the locker room at halftime after converting penalty kicks in the 15th and 38th minutes.
“We just need to get our attack going,” Eagles head coach Mike Tolkin said.
“We played in the wrong half of the field, and we didn’t get a hold of momentum early enough, so we wound up playing catch-up ball.”
The Eagles’ Chris Wyles missed both of his penalty goal attempts in the opening 40 minutes — a lengthy fourth-minute effort fell short before he struck the right post in the 23rd.
But the fullback converted a trio of attempts in the second half to account for all of the USA’s scoring.
His first conversion came three minutes after the break, but an Eagles’ box kick was recovered by Canada and worked into the try zone by Harry Jones shortly thereafter. The following conversion gave the Maple Leafs a 20-3 lead in the 52nd minute.
The Canadians sandwiched another try between Wyles’ final two penalties, and a late-game charge from the Eagles was unsuccessful.
“(The) next game is basically the second half for us,” said Eagles captain Todd Clever, who earned his 51st appearance with the national team. “So we’ve got to change the whole game plan around. I expect a lot of attacking from everywhere and I expect to see an exciting running game from us.”
The Eagles will head directly to Toronto this afternoon ahead of the second-leg match.
“We’ve got to take a good, hard look at ourselves,” Wyles said. “We’ve got to dig real deep and pull together. We’re all pretty proud characters and we’re going to be putting in everything we have into this next game. That’s for sure.”