|Photo: USA Rugby Samu Manoa back in USA colors at long last|
The British and Irish Lions tour of Australia has deprived England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales of players for their respective June tours. All four played teams played test matches on Saturday with mixed results. England impressed against an Argentine side missing twenty-one players. England was far too strong for a Pumas team so weakened and with England missing eleven players to Lions duty the team eased to a 32-3 victory. Samoa was at full strength for its match against a Scottish side missing four players to the Lions and it certainy factored into Samoa claiming its first ever win over the Scot´s. Wales was missing more players but was up against a lower raked side in the form of Japan. The Japanese nevertheless very nearly won, and arguably should have.
Ireland´s match, similarly, was against a Tier Two rugby nation but with the team made up of professional players based in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Ireland was without ten players - Rory Best, Tommy Bowe, Cian Healy, Jamie Heaslip, Rob Kearney, Connor Murray, Sean O´Brien, Brian O´Driscoll, Paul O´Connell and Jonny Sexton. But of these players a number are at the end of their careers. O´Driscoll will not play in Rugby World Cup 2015 while there are possibilities that others could also miss out due to the emergence of quality young players. Despite Sexton´s injury Ronan O´Gara was dropped during the Six Nations which saw Paddy Jackson and Ian Madigan acting as Ireland´s flyhalves in Europe´s premier competition.
Jackson and Madigan both featured against the USA in Ireland´s first of two tests on its June 2013 North American tour. Madigan started while Jackson was on the bench. The bench was strong with Tom Court, Paul Marshall and Dan Tuohy all included. Many regulars also started with Mike Ross, Dave Kilcoyne and Richardt Strauss starting in the frontrow, Devin Toner and Mike McCarthy in the secondrow, Iain Henderson, Chris Henry and Peter O´Mahony in the backrow while Simon Zebo and Fergus McFadden were the starting winger. All of these players played for Ireland in the 2013 Six Nations.
Suggesting that Ireland was depleted was therefore an oversight. Rather the team was a mix of proven forwards with mostly young backs. There were debut´s for the starting fullback and inside centre Robbie Henshaw and Stuart Olding while the USA fielded the one time capped Seamus Kelly in the centres. He debuted against Canada last month and did so in place of the injured Paul Emerick. Aside from Emerick the USA Eagles were at full strength and it showed just how good the team can be.
The contest was very even and was tryless. Neither side was able to score a try with the match instead being won by Madigan who kicked five penalties compared to four landed by Chris Wyles. This marks phenomenal progress from the USA Eagles as the team has historically lost such matches and done so by conceeding a high try count. Not this time though as cheered on by a record 20,181 at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, Texas the North Americans matched Ireland and should have won the match. The usual poor USA scrum was improved and the ball carrying abilities and tackling which has previously relied so much on Todd Clever alone was dominant with Samu Manoa and Scott LaValla performing very well. They were also a part of a strong lineup that caused Ireland significant problems. Together with Lou Stanfill and Brian Doyle the USA back five fowards really look to been a Tier One not a Tier Two side.
Most encouraging for the USA, perhaps is that neither Taylor Mokate nor John Quill started. Both players are young stars to have emerged in recent times and should go on to play at Rugby World Cup 2015. Quill was on the bench as was Peter Dahl, another forward of long term interest. With Manoa and LaValla also both being able to play in the secondrow the USA has possibly its strongest ever depth in the back-five forwards.
Next month´s matches against Canada are certain to be extremely competitive but before then the USA has upcoming games against Tonga, Fiji and Japan in the Pacific Nations Cup. The USA will host Tonga next Saturday at the Home Depot Center in Los Angeles. It is the same venue which was previously used for the IRB World Sevens Series before it most on to San Diego and subsequently to Las Vegas. After facing Tonga the USA will travel to Japan for two tests and is likely to do so with a weakened side to allow players recovery time after the long European season. It will also ensure the USA can give its all in the Rugby World Cup Qualification matches against Canada. Ireland will face Canada in Toronto next Saturday.