Rugby World Cup
Hard-working Eagles run out of steam against ruthless Springboks
Tom Hamilton
October 7, 2015
How far can South Africa go?

OLYMPIC STADIUM, London -- It has been a campaign of belligerence, commitment and healthy endeavour but ultimately the USA have nothing to show for it heading into their final Rugby World Cup pool stage match against Japan this weekend. Despite fielding a team with eight amateurs and four contracted Sevens players, the much-changed Mike Tolkins' side went toe-to-toe with the vastly more experienced Springboks for the first-half but ran out of steam once South Africa pressed harder on the Eagles' throat in the second 40 ending in a 64-0 triumph.

South Africa 64-0 United States (Australia only)

The 12 changes the USA made running into the game spoke volumes. This was a chance to give each of their squad a match at this World Cup while keeping more than just half an eye on Sunday's game against Japan. That will be their best chance of getting a point but even then, it will be against a side chasing their third win of the groups and a historic quarterfinal spot.

It has been another campaign of learning for the majority of the 31 Eagles who travelled to this World Cup. The amateurs in their ranks will have seldom had the chance or exposure to playing tier one sides and you can imagine it would have been a shock to the system, to say the least, at the speed and intensity with which the Boks moved the ball around. No amount of analysis or training can prepare you for that.

Bryan Habana of South Africa goes over to score his second try © Getty Images
Blaine Scully of the United States and Bryan Habana come together going for a high ball, South Africa v USA, Rugby World Cup, Queen Elizabeth Park, London, October 7, 2015
Blaine Scully of the United States and Bryan Habana come together going for a high ball © Getty Images

Against South Africa they were guilty of poor kicks from hand and a weak scrum, but the latter can be forgiven considering all but Danny Barrett and Samu Manoa are amateurs. While that can be an area cited as one perhaps understandable where they were second best, their limp tackling was poor. In total they missed 30 tackles - a total you cannot afford to leak in any match let alone against a superior team in the World Cup.

The Boks made heavy weather of their superiority in the pack during the first-half but it helped them build the lead they were threatening in the second 40.

The USA were also not helped by their appalling kicking from hand. On the occasions they had a chance to clear their lines or a penalty to touch, their kicking was poor, inaccurate and ineffective.

Tactically they did their best to find a way through the Boks' defence but they were guilty of spreading the ball wide too quickly. With a team featuring four Sevens players perhaps their eagerness to attempt an attack down the flanks was in part due to some grounding in the short-form of the game. The space they experience on the Sevens circuit was sparse at the Olympic Stadium. You have to earn the right to go wide and the only time they made real ground with ball in hand was when Blaine Scully intercepted a loose pass in the closing stages of the first-half.

If they fail to register a point against Japan on Sunday, they will return home frustrated but there are green shoots of optimism surrounding this team. Blindside Danny Barrett needs to be fast-tracked into a professional XVs environment as soon as possible while the fantastic Saracens 20-year-old loose-head Tito Lamositele, who was one of four front-rowers on their bench for this match, can reach three-figures of caps for the USA if he stays injury free.

Damien de Allende of South Africa goes over for the opening try © Getty Images

While Shalom Suniula's game management was suspect, AJ McGinty - rested in this match - is a canny fly-half and is at the top end of the tier two playmakers. Thretton Palamo, now of London Welsh after a spell at Saracens, also blends physicality with soft hands at inside centre. Manoa is already in the world-class bracket.

Up next will be Japan. They will head there as underdogs but not down and out. They will have their first-choice pack and if they can make the tactical tweaks and shore up their kicks out of hand, they will run the Brave Blossoms close. There is potential there for the USA, they just need to take that next leap and that comes with a more frequent exposure to tier one sides and having more of their number in professional environments.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Tom Hamilton is the Associate Editor of ESPNscrum.

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