In a tense, hard fought game played at Kennesaw State University just outside Atlanta and in front of a crowd of more than 6,000 the Eagles secured their spot with Rugby’s world’s elite as they overcame tough opposition from South America to take the second spot given to the Americas.
The Rugby World Cup is a truly international competition that takes place once every four years. Twenty national teams from around the globe will compete in the country of the sports origin, England, for the right to call themselves world champions.
The sport’s traditional powerhouse teams, New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, host England and several others had already qualified. Most of the field is set but for the United States their chance came over the weekend.
The game in Atlanta always promised to be a tense affair as the first leg, played in Montevideo last weekend was tied 27-27. The team with most points in the aggregate was to go through which made the game a “Winner Takes All” event.
The game was a scrappy tense affair, in part because of the game’s significance and also because of the weather which in the first half couldn’t seem to decide between heavy spring showers and sunny skies.
The game started out with Uruguay on the front foot and a try and conversion put them ahead. The USA Eagles then had a lot of territorial advantage but couldn’t make it count on the scoreboard. Uruguay’s dogged defense was assisted by the fact that the Eagles had a couple of players sent to the sinbin for minor infractions. The US eventually got on the scoreboard with a penalty kick to narrow Los Teros lead to 7-3. Two more penalties for the Uruguay team increased the lead to 13-3 at the half.
It was a strange half of rugby, the Eagles dominated most every phase of the ball but couldn’t score. Credit Uruguay’s defense and scrummaging that kept the Eagles off-balance. The Eagles play was scrappy and ill-disciplined and that, no doubt, helped the Uruguay team take and then extend their lead.
In the second half a different Eagles team came out. Their dominance of forward play particularly in the mauls gave rise to more territorial advantage, spending almost the entire half on the front foot.
Uruguay, whose lead had been aided by some stalwart defense and the numerical superiority that came about from the Eagles lack of discipline weren’t going to be so fortunate in the second half. The Eagles superior fitness and size, particularly in the pack, started to pay dividends.
It became apparent pretty quickly that the Eagles were turning the screws. The forwards in the loose were overwhelming a tiring Uruguayan defense and it was the prop, Eric Fry who scored the first touchdown to narrow Uruguay’s lead.
Scrum-half Mike Petri put the Eagles ahead with a quickly taken penalty that caught the defense unaware. Petri was able to score the try between the goalposts resulting in an easy conversion for Chris Wyles.
Once the Eagles had the lead, the outcome was not in doubt. The US were dominating possession and territory and it showed in two more tries and a penalty. The Sunuila brothers each scored a try. Replacement fly-half Shalom Suniula scored with a pretty run that left several Uruguay defenders in his wake, while his brother Andrew Suniula scored a more powerful try carrying several defenders and Eagles over the line with him.
A late penalty finished the scoring with the final score being 32-13 in favor of the United States.
The groups for the Rugby World Cup have already been drawn and the USA will play against South Africa, Scotland, Samoa, and one more Asia region qualifier.