DUBLIN, Ireland – After a slow start in the Eagles’ third and final pool match of the 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup versus England, an improved performance down the stretch earned the United State a bonus-point in defeat, 47-26. An inability to build phases on attack and keep possession eliminated the possibility of an upset of the 2014 World Cup Champions, but a long-range try by Kris Thomas on the match’s final play put a fourth American try on the scoreboard, and produced the bonus-point required for the Eagles to stay in the hunt for a spot in the tournament’s Semifinals
Hard-nosed defense on both sides occupied the first 10 minutes of the opening half before England outside center Emily Scarratt chased down a grubber and pounced on the loose ball beyond the end line. A review by the television match official revealed Scarratt applied pressure on the ball, and the Red Roses were awarded the match’s first points.
Five minutes after England tacked on its conversion, the Eagles were forced to collapse a Red Rose maul heading straight for the try line. The referee deemed the infraction as malicious, and a penalty try was awarded before hooker Katy Augustyn was sent off the pitch with a yellow card.
“Their lineout maul is the best in the world, and we really struggled with that,” Eagles Head Coach Pete Steinberg said following the contest.
Leading 14-0, England went back to its renowned maul for its third converted try on the day at the 20-minute mark. The Red Roses returned to their maul just minutes later, but this time flanker Marlie Packer peeled off the maul in order to dive over the try line for a fourth England score. The successful conversion by Scarratt increased the No. 1-ranked team’s lead to 28-0.
“There was a 20-minute period that England got on a roll and we really struggled in the first half, and they scored four of their tries. But outside of that, we really felt like we were able to compete,” noted Steinberg.
The Eagles finally made some inroads deep into England’s half following the 30-minute mark. A few attempts to get beyond the end line failed before openside flanker Kate Zackary dragged multiple English players with her on the way to USA’s first try, which Alev Kelter converted to bring the score to 28-7.
The Eagles, however, weren’t able to go into halftime with the momentum produced by Zackary’s try. A set scrum built the platform for England fly half Mclean to exploit a gap and sprint to pay dirt for one final try before the halftime whistle.
“Out inexperience showed in the first half, particularly in the wind, which was a real challenge for us,” Steinberg admitted. “But I’m very proud of the players to keep working and get the bonus point that could be really critical for us to get through to the Semifinals.”
Leading 33-7 entering the second half, English lock Abbie Scott grinded out the tough meters to create space for wing Amy Wilson Hardy to run in for the first try of the second period. In the 47th-minutes, the Red Roses again utilized their weapon of choice – the driving maul – to push the Eagles’ forward pack beyond its own try line, and the ball was dotted down. Scarratt made good on the conversion to boost the reigning World Champion’s lead to 47-7, but those would be England’s final points on the day as USA impressively kept the Red Roses off the scoreboard for the match’s final 32 minutes.
The tide began to turn in the Eagles’ favor in the 50th-minutes. First, Kelter broke through the defense and into England’s 22-meter line, before Naya Tapper bullied her way near the goal line. From there, Emba instinctively picked up the ball from the ruck and dove across the line for the full back’s second try in her last two matches.
Four days after scoring a brace of tries in the Eagles’ 43-0 win over Spain, Tapper burst through a hole in the English defense, and darted to the try line for a brilliant individual score. Kelter’s conversions split the uprights, leaving the Eagles down 47-19, but within one additional try of a crucial bonus-point.
USA’s reserves did well to counter England’s physicality, including prop Nick James who made her international debut when she came off the bench. The Eagles inched their way to the Red Roses’ goal line at the 70th-minutes, but a slight knock-on at the base of the ruck ended their possession and eliminated the possibility of a bonus-point for the time being.
The Eagles were allowed one last chance to notch a fourth try with the clock hitting the 80-minute mark. A win at scrum time gave USA the opportunity it needed, and Kris Thomas did the rest. The winger received an accurate pass and found open space before side-stepping an English defender, and striding beyond the end line for her third try of the tournament. Fly half Kimber Rozier’s successful conversion would sound the full time whistle, and the Eagles rallied for a bonus point despite losing to England, 47-26.
The 21-point defeat places the Americans second in Pool B with 11 points to England’s 15. The Red Roses will move onto the World Cup Semifinals as the victors of Pool B, while the Eagles’ Semifinal fate won’t be determined until the completion of a Pool C fixture between Ireland and France.
The French currently lead Pool C with 10 standings points, while Ireland have eight points to its name. A France victory over the hosts, as well as a tie, would qualify the Eagles for the Semifinals. The only way in which the Eagles would be kept out of the World Cup Semifinals would be a Pool C result that saw the Irish upset a French side that earned at bonus-point in defeat. The Women’s World Cup format allows teams to receive a bonus-point by either scoring at least four tries, as the Eagles did against the Red Roses, or falling in defeat by seven points or less.
“If we go through we’ll probably be playing New Zealand, and probably our biggest challenge is going to be ball retention,” evaluated Steinberg. “We really struggled in the first half to hold onto the ball, and the pressure England put on us was really difficult.”
Advancement to the Semifinals would produce a Tuesday, Aug. 22 fixture between the Eagles and the tournament’s No. 1 seed following pool play results. An Irish win over a French side that earns a bonus-point in defeat wouldn’t end USA’s World Cup, however. The Eagles will still compete on Aug. 22 if they are to miss out on the Semifinals.