PARIS, France – Kicking the ball into touch with seemingly no time left on the clock almost cost the Women’s Eagles a 23-20 victory over Australia Wednesday at the IRB Women’s Rugby World Cup 2014.
Sending the ball out of bounds, the U.S. celebrated a come-from-behind effort and the chance to face New Zealand again. However, the referee saw it differently and awarded the lineout to Australia.
Gaining a penalty inside the Eagles’ 22-meter line gave the Wallaroos one last shot at salvaging the match. Ashleigh Hewson’s kick sailed right and ended the nail-biting finish.
“It was a mixture of relief and elation,” said Eagles Head Coach Peter Steinberg after seeing the kick miss the uprights. “Us kicking out and thinking that we had won and them finishing the game with a penalty kick was an emotional roller coaster.”
Down 12-3 at halftime, the Eagles regrouped to produce one of their strongest performances at the World Cup. Australia, however, was ready for the refocused U.S. attack.
“The second half was another dominant performance by us,” reflected the head coach. “We were able to consistently get to the line, but the Australian team defended very well.”
Another note from the second half was limiting the boot of Hewson.
“We handled [Hewson’s] kicking very well and consistently was able to get good field position on the counters,” furthered Steinberg.
Looking back on the match, Eagles staff noted the turnaround being the deciding factor in the match despite a lackluster performance.
“The team knows that they pulled together, did not play our best, but managed to win through their own determination,” said Steinberg of his team’s performance.
According to Steinberg, a flat warm-up and lack of energy prior to the game led to the poor first half.
“The team was quiet and while the warm up was sharp, it seemed we lacked energy,” said Steinberg. “That showed in the first half.
As a result of the poor start, the Eagles went with a different halftime approach.
“At halftime we decided that there was not going to be any technical feedback,” explained Steinberg of how to motivate the players. “We were just going to challenge them and they responded to the challenge.”
The challenge was certainly met as the Eagles scored their second-highest point total for a half at the World Cup. The U.S. amassed 20 points during the second half, the most since earning 32 against Kazakhstan.
The win not only kept the Eagles unbeaten against Australia, but also ensured a rematch with the Black Ferns - a match that will determine fifth place at the World Cup.
Some adjustments have been put into place for the rematch with New Zealand.
“We need to make sure that we are mentally up for this game most importantly,” said Steinberg. “We managed to implement some new approaches to getting over the goal line.”
In the previous meeting against the Black Ferns, the Eagles had numerous scoring opportunities, but were unable to post a try on the board.
Fitness and a better finish to the match will also be a focus for the U.S.
“We also know that our fitness is tremendous and that at the end of the game we will be able to keep going,” Steinberg pointed out. “The team has not yet played a complete game and we have one more chance to do that.”
Pinning New Zealand deep in its own territory for a majority of the match, the Eagles let up four tries to the Black Ferns in the closing 20 minutes of a 34-3 loss.
The rematch against New Zealand is set for 8:15 A.M. ET at Stade Jean Bouin.
Universal Sports will show the match on tape-delay at 6:00 P.M. ET.
Follow the Eagles on Twitter for live updates in the match against New Zealand.
The match report will be posted to usarugby.org/womens-eagles following the contest.