Scotland survives Houston heat, defeats Eagles at BBVA Compass Stadium

Scotland survives Houston heat, defeats Eagles at BBVA Compass Stadium

HOUSTON, Texas – The Men’s Eagles lost two players to injury in the first 20 minutes of Saturday’s match against Scotland at BBVA Compass Stadium, a 24-6 loss in front of 20,001 fans.

Shalom Suniula, starting his first match for the Eagles, got the game started with the kickoff and Blaine Scully nearly won it cleanly in the air. The Eagles’ penalty troubles began in that first minute, allowing Scotland to advance up the field with kicks to touch.

The lineout just meters from the Eagles’ try line in the third minute was stolen by the home team, but they were penalized before they could break midfield. Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw lined up the 40-meter kick and struck it well, but it caught the inside of the left upright and bounced back into play. The Eagles could not control the ball and a scrum was awarded for a knock.

In the sixth minute, before the Eagles could get the ball out of their end, Laidlaw had a second opportunity to open the scoring with another penalty goal attempt. He did not miss, giving Scotland a 3-0 lead.

The Eagles worked their way into the match with multiple phases in their attack and earned a penalty of their own in the 11th minute. It was still early, so the Eagles decided to keep it close and go for points. Chris Wyles took his time with the setup and nailed the kick to level the match at 3-3.

Louis Stanfill plowed through the gain line on the other side of the restart to set up Todd Clever with a momentous run, but again the Eagles’ momentum was halted because of a penalty.

The game broke open for the visitors in the 15th minute when Laidlaw offloaded to Tim Visser inside the Eagles’ half. The Eagles had overloaded the opposite side of the pitch and the wing had no trouble finding a hole with a neatly-timed run. Visser touched down between the sticks to give Laidlaw an easy conversion, which he made for a 10-3 lead.

Phil Thiel went down with an apparent injury in the 18th minute and needed treatment, but Scotland moved down the pitch and almost scored a second try if it were not for a pass lost forward in the final fourth of the field.

Tom Coolican replaced Thiel in the 20th minute and Folau Niua came on for Andrew Suniula, who appeared to land awkwardly in a tackle a minute earlier. Suniula was eventually taken off of the pitch on a stretcher.

Scrum after scrum moved Scotland closer to the in-goal, but the Eagles held firm before holding up a try in the 27th minute. Two minutes later, Visser got the ball over the try line again. The referee did not signal a try and referred to the TMO, whose replay showed the wing lost the ball before it hit the ground.

Scotland had been playing an advantage, however, so the Eagles were not able to escape the danger. Another held-up try kept the score close, but a yellow card for multiple infringements against Olive Kilifi at prop would prove costly. Nick Wallace replaced Hayden Smith as a front-row sub and managed to keep the scrum alive for the Eagles, but the referee awarded a penalty try a minute later. Laidlaw’s conversion from in front was successful to extend Scotland’s lead to 17-3.

The Eagles did not bow their heads after the try and went back to work, regaining possession following the restart and pushing deep into Scotland territory. Cameron Dolan put the Eagles within striking distance and Scott LaValla helped Clever near the try line in the tackle. The captain stretched over the try line and put the ball down, but a second look at the replay gave the referee reason to keep the Eagles at three points: an infringement for double movement.

“If Clever’s try was allowed that would have given us momentum, answering the Scotland try down to 14 men,” Eagles Head Coach Mike Tolkin said after the match. “It was just too much stop-start, not enough continuity.”

Clever said the disallowed try “took the wind out of [the Eagles’] sails,” but Scotland did not capitalize and, with a missed penalty goal by Wyles, took the 17-3 lead into halftime.

Kilifi and Smith reentered the match before the end of the half, but Wallace came back onto the pitch at halftime as a substitute for Eric Fry.

Niua saved a near-try in the 45th minute, taking Sean Maitland into touch when the wing had room to run. Mike Petri broke the line after the lineout and the Eagles put together a few phases before kicking for territory. Seamus Kelly laid out a Scot to turn over possession in Scotland’s half and the Eagles gave Wyles a third shot at the posts in the 50th minute by earning a penalty. Wyles kicked the ball true to cut Scotland’s lead to 17-6.

More stop-start play kept either team from continuous attacks, and it was not until the 66th when the next points were scored. Suniula kicked a perfect, 50-50 ball for Scully at Scotland’s 22, but Stuart Hogg timed his jump just a bit better than the Leicester Tiger and finished the turnover by running the length of the pitch for a try in the corner. Laidlaw kept his kicking average high with the tough conversion to give Scotland a 24-6 lead.

The Eagles did not give up until the final whistle, but temperatures above 80 degrees and a physical encounter with the Six Nations side made it tough in the final minutes. Chad London entered the match as a blood sub for Clever, who had been cut above his eye, but more scrums advanced the clock to 80 minutes before the Eagles could score a try.

Not long after the captain took the pitch once again, the referee blew his whistle to mark an end to the 24-6 match.

Positive signs for the Eagles included keeping Scotland scoreless while down a man in the first half and keeping the visitors scoreless for 20 minutes in the second half, but failing to score for the second consecutive match in Houston is a worry.

“We weren’t aggressive where we needed to be around the ruck and off the defensive line,” Tolkin said. “Overall, we didn’t do a good enough job holding onto the ball. We didn’t have the ingredients we needed to take the game tonight. The opportunities were there if we broke through.”

The match was Scotland’s first in a four-match tour, and new coach Vern Cotter was impressed with the effort from the Eagles.

“They never gave up,” Cotter said. “I thought they made ground at times around rucks, they caught us on wheels a couple of times. They have powerful runners, powerful athletes, and I’m sure they’ll be looking at the game tomorrow and they’ll be looking to improve. And they will improve their next game because there’s a lot of energy from their team, they just need to channel it and I think they’ll be fine.”

The Eagles had gone four matches unbeaten headed into Houston with wins against Georgia and Russia before a draw and win against Uruguay in the IRB Rugby World Cup 2015 Qualifier playoff series. The Eagles will get a chance to add more tallies to the win column this month as they take on Japan at StubHub Center June 14 and Canada at Sacramento’s new Bonney Field June 21.

Men's Eagles | v Scotland
1. Olive Kilifi
2. Phil Thiel
3. Eric Fry
4. Louis Stanfill
5. Hayden Smith
6. Todd Clever
7. Scott LaValla
8. Cameron Dolan
9. Mike Petri
10. Shalom Suniula
11. Luke Hume
12. Andrew Suniula
13. Seamus Kelly
14. Blaine Scully
15. Chris Wyles

Men's Eagles | Reserves
16. Tom Coolican (@ 20')
17. Nick Wallace (@ 40')
18. Titi Lamositele (@ 54')
19. Tai Tuisamoa (@ 63')
20. Danny Barrett (@ 54')
21. Folau Niua (@ 22')
22. Chad London
23. Tim Maupin (@ 70')

Men's Eagles | 6
Tries: N/A
Conversions: N/A
Penalties: Wyles (2)

Scotland | v USA Eagles
1. Gordon Reid
2. Scott Lawson
3. Geoff Cross
4. Richie Gray
5. Jim Hamilton
6. Alasdair Strokosch
7. Blair Cowan
8. Johnnie Beattie
9. Greig Laidlaw
10. Finn Russell
11. Tim Visser
12. Duncan Taylor
13. Sean Lamont
14. Sean Maitland
15. Stuart Hogg

Scotland | Reserves
16. Pat MacArthur
17. Alex Allan
18. Moray Low
19. Grant Gilchrist
20. Kieran Low
21. Grayson Hart
22. Ruaridh Jackson
23. Max Evans

Scotland | 24
Tries: Visser, Penalty Try, Hogg
Conversions: Laidlaw (3)
Penalties: Laidlaw

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Comments (29)

  • Guest - Jono Mac

    Firstly, great to see the USA getting more games against tier 1 teams. They can only get better, considering that youth development programs should start delivering more equipped & skillful players. I hear youth development programs are doing well in the usa?

    Some comments on the match, the USA game plan is very one dimensional and too predictable. Too be honest, they don't have the tight-five to play that game effectively either. The back-line needs to develop a more layered approach to their attack and work on their running lines. They also need to look to attack space first and look for support. All the attack was based on one-off runners, which simply won't cut it in international or even club rugby.

    Perhaps they need to get a coach or technical assistant with more international experience to help Tolkin here. (I think he is a little out of his depth IMO) Perhaps a skills coach from Australia, NZ or RSA. They are way too defense orientated at the moment in terms of their mindset.

    However, overall, I think that if the USA keeps slowly improving and look to be more attack orientated with better players coming through, they will definitely be able to move up the rankings! You guys have come a long way in a relatively short amount of time... so keep it up!

    I'll keep watching with interest here in South Africa.

  • Guest - rugby2

    In reply to: Guest - Jono Mac

    Jono -

    Thanks for the words. You're spot on with the way the game played out being predictable and one-dimensional. And I've made the same comments above about playing to these tactics with a por scrum - we're more than competitive in the LO though.

    The odd thing about the attack, especially in the backline - the first two matches Tolkin was coach were probably the most expansive and dynamic the backline has been since the late 90's early 2000's, when Hercus and Wilfley were running Emerick, Eloff, and others around. But since then, it's been back to the basic attack you described. While only having all these players a few weeks a year, and a week before each match, certainly plays into this, there has to be a defined approach from day one of each camp on this. I question if that is the case. We'll see how this improves after the next two matches, as the "not much time together" excuse will no longer be all that valid...

    Historically, I think the US represented better at the dawn of the worldwide professional era - we've been blitzed since then...

  • Guest - Jono Mac

    In reply to: Guest - rugby2


    Yeah, the start of the professional era definitely saw the gap between amateur and traditional rugby countries increase, at least initially but the tier 2 countries are closing the gap again... albeit slowly. (some have established semi/professional competitions which helps)

    Considering the game in the USA is still amateur and a minor sport, I think they doing pretty well. It takes time to develop a sporting culture and playing ethos. The key is developing the game at youth levels, which I believe they are doing. Once these younger guys come through, you will really start pushing the better teams. At the moment the guys look rushed with the ball in hand, this tells me that the pace of the game and defensive pressure was a little too much for them. As your domestic game gets better, the players will get used to this and execute better.

    Also, the USA is getting more consistent tests against fairly decent opposition, along with increased media exposure.... so things are looking up! (:

    At the moment, Canada seem to have better all round fundamentals and skill levels. (I hear rugby is a little more established there, so this could be the reason?) I'm looking forward to the game between them and the USA.

  • Guest - Wankus McGee

    I'm sure glad my plans changed and I could not attend the game in person. Between the injuries and replays, it was almost as slow as watching pro football. Watched it on TV with some non-rugby friends and the game did not seem to excite them. Clearly pros vs amateurs. USA should stick with playing against other 2nd tier rugby nations. Wake up USA Rugby - the answer lies in developing youth rugby - not converting aspiring pro football players into fast running, low skill, internationals.

  • Guest - Denis

    It would be great to see USA really make an impact. You (this comment comes from England) are probably five really good players from a world class team, but more important is what you do with the possession you win. Support for the ball carrier and keeping hold of the thing would probably go a long way to putting things right.

  • Guest - Jono Mac

    In reply to: Guest - Denis

    Hi Denis,

    Yep, the USA back-line looks to be rushed and not comfortable with the ball in hand (the passing is also very poor), although they were playing off a poor platform too. They really need to respect ball possession more as you said.

    Given more time together, better fitness, a solid front row, some game breakers in the back-line and they will definitely start putting up better showings. I still feel the USA are getting better and improved results will come.... eventually ?!?!

    BTW... I think England will win the RWC next year, they building very nicely. (its gonna be a great RWC)

  • Guest - Bemused

    The Eagles backs were far too deep behind the gain line in attack, receiving passes from scrum half and fly half that were 10 yards back. I could not understand why attacking the line at pace and playing a little flatter didn't seem to be in the game plan. There's no point playing a loop around 10 yards behind the gain line, while the opposition push up to fill the space. Pretty elementary stuff at a times. In the first half the Eagles went through several phases, backwards. Not because of Scottish defensive genius, but because of a lack of running lines form the US. Weird.

  • Guest - Roger Howell

    Tolkin talks about not being aggressive and not being able to hold onto the ball. Last time I checked my coaching notes, those are key points to every game. It is the coaches responsibility to train the players, to study opposition and then implement a plan and either adhere to it or adjust throughout the game. I am disappointed in the consistently parochial pace and poor handling of the rugby ball, and I am horrified at the kicking away of possession time after time. It was a hot steamy night, oh, lets kick the ball away and have our heavyweights chase after it. Just ludicrous! No spontaneous play, predictable grinder after grinder, ( and the Scots weren't getting sucked in so that was useless) and no pursuit on the up and unders. we need our forwards to be able to pass the ball, and our backs wide and geared up to run out from behind the 22. We will not be in a good place if we do not get these issues corrected. It is not all Tolkin's fault, however, training camp should time to show a mastery of fundamentals, and a time to insert brilliant movements. The coaching staff needs to anticipate the opposition's strength and weakness and plan for it accordingly. Let's move on, Japan will not be a push over.

  • Guest - Bob

    This team is horrible. Find a waybto start winning games, no more excuses.