|Photo: KLC Fotos|
2014 will be looked back upon as a ground breaking year for the USA for a variety of reasons, of which the majority are extremely positive. The USA Eagles qualified for Rugby World Cup 2015 after defeating Uruguay at home and also completed wins over Tier Two rivals Canada and Romania. The Eagles also had the rare opportunity of hosting New Zealand and the match played in Chicago set a North American record attendance of 61,500. The year places the USA Eagles in an arguably stronger position than was the case going into previous Rugby World Cups and there is reason to be optimistic about seeing classic tries from the Eagles in 2015.
The USA played more test matches in 2014 than is the norm. The reason for this was that the two matches against Uruguay and the home test against New Zealand were all played outside of the World Rugby mandatory player release windows in the months of June and November. These fixtures were in addition to the USA having a complete home program of three tests in June and three away in November.
The USA started the year by competing to a 27-27 draw in Montevideo which meant the winner of the return match in Atlanta would directly qualify for the World Cup. After trailing into the second half the USA Eagles ran in some impressive tries to fight back to a convincing 32-13 win. The victory saw the USA qualify for Pool B of Rugby World Cup 2015, a pool containing Japan, Samoa, Scotland and South Africa.
Of these teams the USA would go on to face two of them in later test matches in 2014. The first of which was Scotland whom the USA hosted in front of 20,000 supporters in Houston. The home side was unable to score a try in a 24-6 loss. The USA then started and finished strongly against Japan in Los Angeles and completed some memorable tries but Japan was the better side throughout the match's mid-stages.
The Eagles then looked to end a losing streak dating back to 2009. The North American battle saw the USA create and complete outstanding touch-downs. It also, however, saw errors punished with Canada making the USA pay on multiple occasions. Having got themselves well positioned in the second half Canada appeared set for a victory but the USA fought back to complete an extraordinary 38-35 win in Sacramento, California.
The USA's fourth and final home fixture was that at Soldier Field in which a packed NFL stadium saw the All Blacks run out 74-6 winners. The cost of the loss would become clear in Europe over the following weeks as in order to host the All Blacks at this date USA Rugby had to obtain clearance from Premier Rugby for Aviva Premiership players to be released. The agreement freed them up but they were then prevented from facing Romania, Tonga and Fiji.
A much changed lineup took-on Romania in Bucharest in the second November test and proved to be competitive in defeating the Eastern Europeans 27-17. All three of the USA's tries involved skill and execution with the back-three all scoring one try each.
The North Americans also performed well against both Tonga and Fiji and scored both memorable tries but the strength of the Pacific Islanders meant the USA lost by scorelines of 40-12 and 20-14. The matches served as ideal preparation for the Rugby World Cup match against Samoa, a match in which the USA will have a stronger side. The Eagles will be targeting Samoa and Japan as their key matches in 2015.