My new team, Ireland, trounces Scotland. So what?

Irish“Skies growing darker while the prospects for Ireland are growing brighter,” said the announcer during the Ireland-Scotland rugby game early Sunday morning. That may be, as the Irish won 27-3 over Scotland in both teams’ first games in the 2019 Rugby World Cup, but I’m not so sure things are bright enough to see an Irish victory over New Zealand if that match ever came about in this tournament.

The Irish forwards looked strong against Scotland, scoring three of their four tries, before a wing added one more and then “Ireland took all the pace out of the game,” the announcer said, as Ireland played cautious ball to protect their lead. Those four tries  win a bonus point for Ireland, but remember this is Scotland, the team that fell to United States in 2018, the first time the Eagles beat a Tier One team. Ireland will advance out of Pool A, but Scotland, figuring they can beat Russia and Samoa, might have a hard time getting by Japan to move into the quarter finals.

Good bet that New Zealand will advance out of Pool B, and a potential Irish-New Zealand match could come during the weekend of Oct. 19 and 20. I’ll be on my couch cheering for Ireland and hoping for a new nation to win the RWC.

Also happy to report that my scrum slumber during the New Zealand-South Africa game had nothing to do with the strength of my coffee, heavy food or even my age. Simply a matter of too much rugby in the middle of the night and early morning. So I skipped English beating Tonga, 35-3, and I’m laying off viewing rugby until the Eagles take on England Thursday, Sept. 26, at a 3:45 a.m. PDT. No Wales vs. Georgia, Russia vs. Samoa, Fiji vs. Uruguay or Italy vs. Canada (might make an exception there at 12:45 Thursday morning).

USA over England? That would be an upset that would lend big time mystery over who escapes Pool C.

A question: The 2019 RWC is being held in Japan. The stadium was filled with Irish and Scot fans, who were loudly singing along to. . .  John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Road.” Do they know where West Virginia is and what’s there?

 

My rugby over nighter was a huge disappointment

The rugby all nighter turned out to be a disappointment. It started at 9:30 PDT Friday night with the kick off of the Australia-Fiji match in the 2019 Rugby World Cup. Then on to the France-Argentina game and finally the belle of the evening: New Zealand vs. South Africa. Actually, the belle of the morning as it started at 2:30.

What I was looking for was disruption in one of the four pools in which the 20 teams had been organized. An upset. Argentina over France (that’s happened before). Fiji over Australia (could happen). South Africa and New Zealand? Could go either way, but as much as I like rooting for the Kiwis – great country, great haka and greatest rugby – it would be nice to give others a chance. New Zealand has won three of the eight Rugby World Cups, including the last two. South Africa has won twice.

It would be nice if someone besides Tier One nations won this thing – or at least threw in some mystery on where this would all end up on Nov. 2, the day of the championship game.

Fiji could create some mystery in Pool D if they knocked off Australia. Not to be. Fiji made a good run in the first half, but the Wallabies settled down in the second half, got stingy with possession of the ball, and Fiji got tired, frustrated and resorted to reaching in to grab the ball out of rucks and mauls, resulting in penalties and then, a yellow card. Australia won 39-21 and picked up a bonus point for scoring four tries. And Wales and the Wallabies will probably go on to the quarter finals out of Pool D.

Argentina gave the most exciting game of the evening/morning. The Pumas were down 17-3 at half time but scored 18 points to get to a 21-20 lead over France, who had a three point penalty kick to get to 20. France needed a drop goal in the last few minutes to regain the lead at 23-21. A last minute penalty kick to Argentina wandered left of the posts, and they will have to settle for one bonus point for finishing within seven of the winner.

Only the United States and Tonga are left to keep the predictable England and France from moving forward out of Pool C. The USA Eagles get their chance against England on Thursday, Sept. 26, at 3:45 a.m. PDT. Another early day to rise.

Which leads me to my biggest disappointment of the rugby all nighter. The New Zealand-South Africa game displayed superb rugby skills, great runs, good defense and gritty scrummaging – what you expect from these top teams. The Kiwis prevailed 23-13 over the Springboks, and I can’t tell you much about how they did that because I woke up with my iPad on my chest with Kieran Read, the Kiwi captain, giving an interview on how they held off South Africa.

Narcolepsy may be common in baseball stadiums, and it is increasingly reported in the stands of America’s brand of slow football, but no one – no one – falls asleep during a rugby game, even after six hours of middle-of-the-night viewing. Could be the strength of my coffee. It could be from squinting at a small screen. It could be, I can barely stand to say this . . . It could be age. No, no. Lack of exercise. Too much heavy food. Up the night before for the Japan-Russia game? Maybe.

Only one way to find out what is up with my sleep patterns, or lack of them. The Ireland-Scotland game starts Sunday morning at 12:45 PDT. Ireland may have the best chance of breaking the chain of usual suspects. I’ll be on the couch.

 

No country for mixing rugby and biking

The idea was to ride my bike across Montana and North Dakota and keep track of the Seattle Seawolves rugby team at the same time.

It was an idea doomed to fail.

The Seawolves vs. Austin Elite game on Saturday, June 9, was not carried on TV networks available in Jordan, MT, (pop. 386). Especially since the game was played on Friday, June 8, which shows you how out of touch I was after four days of bike riding (246 miles). I heard it was a nail-biter with Seattle winning, 20-19.

And Seawolves vs. Glendale Raptors on Saturday, June 16, while in Lisbon, ND, (pop. 2,124)? Forget it. Yes, really forget it. Seattle lost 33-11.

But I did get to see the U.S. team beat Scotland, 30-29, which bodes well for the national team going forward. Maybe a win or two in the 2019 Rugby World Cup? That would be welcome across the land – even in Jordan and Lisbon, should they hear of it.

About this bike ride: It was not my idea. My sister gets credit/blame for that. It’s her goal/obsession to ride across all of the lower 48 states. We did Iowa and Nevada in 2017. Arkansas, North Dakota and the rest of Montana were on tap for 2018. I promised to ride across Arkansas with her, but our plans fell apart due to other priorities.

I said I would be support and gear/guidance (SAG) for her on Montana/North Dakota. But when her riding partner backed out, what kind of brother would I be if I left her pedaling alone somewhere between Great Falls, MT, and Fargo, ND?

KT at truck
Kathy preparing lunch the first day at the SAG wagon.

SAG duties fell to the spouses, and Kathy and Don can never be thanked enough.

JB and Don
With Don along the way in Napoleon, North Dakota.

It all started on June 4 when Kathy and I started the drive from Seattle. . .

 

 

Rugby World Cup: Who can complain? Unless you’re from Scotland, of course

What a weekend of rugby at Twickenham Stadium.

One hundred and eleven points scored in two games and a difference of only five between the winners (South Africa and Australia) and the losers (Wales and Scotland). Both of these quarter-final games in the Rugby World Cup were decided in the final five minutes. (Not so in the other two quarter finals: New Zealand disposed of France 62-13, and Argentina had a surprisingly easy time against Ireland, 43-20)

South Africa was down 19-18 with five minutes to go when a try by Fourie du Preez gave the Springboks the margin they needed to beat Wales on Saturday.

Bear with me while I relive it:

Statue of a lineout at the entrance to Twickenham Stadium.
Statue of a lineout at the entrance to Twickenham Stadium.

Time: 7:45 Penalty kick by Handre Pollard. Score 3-0 South Africa

11:03 Penalty kick by Pollard. 6-0 South Africa

13:52 Penalty kick by Dan Biggar. 6-3 South Africa

15:35 Penalty kick by Pollard. 9-3 South Africa

17:37 Try by Gareth Davies, conversion by Biggar. 10-9 Wales

19:31 Penalty kick by Pollard. 12-10 South Africa

41:12 Drop goal by Biggar. 13-12 Wales

HALF

47:00 Penalty kick by Biggar. 16-12 Wales

51:45 Drop goal by Pollard. 16-15 Wales

60:26 Penalty by Pollard. 18-16 South Africa

63:25 Penalty kick by Biggar 19-18 Wales

74:25 Try by Fourie du Preez. 23-19 South Africa wins

Obviously helps to have a high-percentage kicker on the field. Pollard missed two penalty kicks, and Biggar had one hit the upright and fall back into play. In between all the scoring by kicks, there was some furious loose play and some exciting runs. Both tries scored came from remarkable ball handling, especially the Wales try after Biggar gathered in his own kick and made the pass to Davies as he was tackled.

Both teams played hard; the clock ran out with South Africa ahead.

No complaints.

Plenty for Scotland. Papers Monday morning screaming about how the Scots were robbed “at the death” and bringing special attention to the post-game dash into the tunnel and out of the public eye by referee Craig Joubert.

Scotland had the lead over Australia, 34-32, with less than two minutes left in the game when Joubert called Scotland’s Jon Welsh for being offsides. At worse, it looked like accidental offsides to me, which would have been a scrum to Australia. Mick Cleary in The Daily Telegraph on Monday dissects the play this way:

Scotland throws to the back of a lineout but David Denton can’t handle it. My friend Eddie, who went to the game with me, points out that had Scotland secured the ball in the lineout and kept possession for less than two minutes, they would have won.

But they didn’t. Instead, the ball was knocked forward by Scot wing forward John Hardie. The ball careens into Australian Nick Phipps and then to the ground. Welsh falls on the ball and is called for being in an offside position. As Cleary says in his report, “Joubert ruled that . . . Welsh was in an offside position following the initial knock-on by John Hardie.” But if Phipps was intentionally trying to play the ball — after the match he said he was — and then knocks it forward, that puts Welsh onsides — he’s in front of the Australian player.

To me, it looked like the ball bounced off Phipps and went to the side of Welsh, who turned and fell on the ball from the Australian side of the play. But after Phipps touches the ball, it’s in open play and Welsh can play a loose ball from any direction.

Robbed at the death, I say.

Indulge me now while I relive it:

Time 8:29 Try by Adam Ashley-Cooper. Score 5-0 Australia

12:51 Penalty kick by Greig Laidlaw 5-3 Australia

18:00 Try by Peter Horne, conversion by Laidlaw. 10-5 Scotland

20:12 Penalty kick by Laidlaw. 13-5 Scotland

29:36 Try by Drew Mitchell. 13-10 Scotland

32:21 Penalty kick by Laidlaw 16-10 Scotland

38:36 Try by Michael Hooper. 16-15 Scotland

HALF

42:00 Sean Maitland is called for intentionally knocking the ball forward. Scotland playing with 14 men for 10 minutes.

43:00 Try by Mitchell, conversion by Bernard Foley. 22-16 Australia

47:00 Penalty kick by Laidlaw. 22-19 Australia

53:12 Penalty kick by Foley. 25-19 Australia

58:12 Try by Tommy Seymour. 25-24 Australia

64:16 Try by Tevita Kuridrani, conversion by Foley. 32-24 Australia

67:48 Penalty kick by Laidlaw. 32-27 Australia

73:21 Try by Mark Bennett, conversion by Laidlaw. 34-32 Scotland

78:10 Penalty kick by Foley. 35-34 Australia wins.

Besides the bad call at the end of the game that gave the win to Australia, I think that all yellow cards given for an intentional knock on are too harsh. Even if the player knocks the ball forward intentionally, I think it should be a penalty kick only. For one thing, that would take refs off the hook in deciding whether the play was an intentional foul. And yellow cards should be reserved for dangerous play, not mishandling.

You have to love tries that pop up out of nowhere, usually the result of an alert player taking advantage of the other teams’ mistakes or capitalizing on their own good play. That was the case for two Scotland tries. Finn Russel gathered in an Australian kick he blocked and then tossed the ball up to Tommy Seymour who was in good support and went in for the try.

Mark Bennett scored his try by stepping in front of an Australian back, intercepting the intended pass to that back and dashing in for a score under the post.

Worth the price of admission, robbery and all.

What's rugby without rain? It fell at Twickenham on Sunday 71 minutes into the game.
What’s rugby without rain? It fell at Twickenham on Sunday 71 minutes into the game.

United States has one last chance to show improvement and win a game

The United State rugby team gets its last chance to win a game in the 2015 Rugby World Cup when they take on Japan at Kingsholm Stadium in Gloucester on Sunday.

For Japan, a win would make their third place finish in Pool B look a bit healthier, but even with a five-point bonus win they would fall a point short of taking the runner-up spot from Scotland.

It could have been much more meaningful if on Saturday Samoa had defeated Scotland. Then a win by Japan over the United States would have put Japan through to the quarter finals. Or, the U.S. Eagles could have played spoiler to Japan and helped the Scots through. But Samoa couldn’t quite get it done, losing 36-33.

In the quarter finals, Scotland will play Australia, the winner of Pool A after defeating Wales Saturday 15-9. South Africa gets Wales in the quarter finals.

New Zealand and Argentina advance from Pool C, but won’t know their quarter final opponents until after the Franc-Ireland game on Sunday.

A win by the Eagles on Sunday would do a lot to restore some belief in the outlook by U.S. Coach Mike Tolkin that things are headed in the right direction for U.S. rugby. After the 64-0 drubbing by South Africa, fans could rightfully be skeptical of Tolkin’s optimism.

As he says in the video above, the U.S. did pretty well in the first half (as they did against Samoa and Scotland), holding a full Springbok team to 14 points from two tries that came only after they had to “work their way down the field.” Then, as he says, South Africa got going in the second half, scoring 50 points.

Tolkin sees the problem correctly — many young players in the lineup with little experience at the international or World Cup level. He saw good performance by individuals but not as a team.

For the game on Sunday, Tolkin is starting 13 players who were not in the South Africa starting 15. Only Samu Manoa at No. 8 and Zack Test, a winger, remain from the game played on Wednesday.

Tolkin said he was also frustrated with the four-day turnaround between the two matches and said he “was not alone in that.”

“I’m sure the Rugby World Cup will look at that.”

As for U.S. rugby, he says things will get better.

“Four years down the road, it will be interesting to see what happens in the game,” Tolkin said in calling for international rugby to continue investing in “tier two” nations.

As he said after the Scotland game, the U.S. side would improve with more professional experience.

“Half my guys will have to go to work on Monday,” Tolkin said, and that will not mean going back to play on professional teams in top tier nations. It will mean resuming jobs as plumbers, fitness trainers, etc.

But Tolkin says he thinks that is about to change and predicted professional rugby union competition in the Untied States “soon.”

I like the idea, but I remain skeptical.

Bryan Habana delivers a pass in the game against the United States. He scored three tries in the game to tie Jonah Lomu's record of most tries scored in the World Cup (15).
Bryan Habana delivers a pass in the game against the United States. He scored three tries in the game to tie Jonah Lomu’s record of most tries scored in the World Cup (15).

Five big days ahead for the U.S. rugby team

Beat South Africa today, and then Japan on Sunday. That’s the task ahead for the United States Eagles in the Rugby World Cup if they want to assure themselves a place in the 2019 tournament in Japan.

Advancing through Pool B to the quarter finals is now out of reach for the Eagles, but getting a RWC win and saving face is still possible for the U.S.

Knocking off the Springboks is a tall order although it’s been done. Japan surprised South Africa and the world by doing so in the first weekend of the tournament. But since then South Africa has shown they have moved beyond that loss, defeating Samoa and Scotland convincingly.

U.S. Coach Mike Tolkin has made several changes in his lineup. He may be resting his best players for the Japan game on Sunday, the last game before the quarter finals start the next weekend.

Tolkin said after the loss to Scotland that he still thought the U.S. could win games in the tournament. We’ll see.

Most of the pools have been sorted out for what teams will advance to the knock-out rounds. But there are still some games this weekend that will have a big impact on what comes next:

Pool B: Samoa vs. Scotland on Saturday. The Scots would love to have this win and a bonus point for scoring four tries. It’s their last game of pool play and they trail South Africa 11-10 in the standings. Whichever team goes out the winner will play the runner up in Pool A.

Pool A: Australia vs. Wales on Saturday. Right now they are tied in the standings with 13 points a piece. Going out as the pool winner would probably mean meeting Scotland in the quarter finals instead of South Africa. That would be my choice.

Pool C: New Zealand plays Tonga and Argentina plays Namibia. Barring an even bigger surprise than Japan over South Africa, the All Blacks and the Pumas will win and go out 1-2.

Pool D: Italy vs. Romania on Sunday will probably determined who takes third place in the pool and wins a guaranteed trip to the 2019 RWC. The stakes are higher for this time around in the game between France and Ireland on Sunday. They are tied with 14 points apiece, and the pool winner will likely face Argentina in the quarters, much preferable to taking on New Zealand.

USA vs. South Africa starts in an hour and 15 minutes.

U.S. coach frustrated by team’s second-half effort

Mike Tolkin, head coach of the U.S. rugby team, didn’t like the Eagles’ second-half performance in their loss Sunday to Scotland.

Speaking at the post-game media conference, Tolkin blamed the failure to sustain a winning first-half effort on poor lineout play, too many penalties and Scotland’s ability to keep the U.S. from pursuing the planned approach to the rest of the game.

Chris Wyles, the U.S. captain, told the media he didn’t think Tolkin’s assessment was too harsh.

Second-half letdown isn’t new to the Eagles. The U.S. stood 14-8 behind at the half against Samoa in its first game in the Rugby World Cup before giving up 11 points in the second half and only scoring eight more in the eventual 25-16 loss.

So what is it that leads to second-half letdowns? Tolkin blamed it on the lack of professional experience on the part of many U.S. players.

“Without professional play in the U.S., players don’t get those week-to-week tough games to harden them,” Tolkin said.

Which raises the question of how U.S. players can get the kind of professional play that Tolkin is talking about. The formation of a professional league within the U.S. seems a daunting task.

Where would the games be played? To collect admissions, control of the gate is needed, but most U.S. rugby games are played on open fields. So stadiums are needed. Does that mean playing on the narrow fields of American football stadiums?

Building stadiums for rugby seems an unlikely financial event at this time although some clubs are beginning to secure their own grounds. The Glendale, Colo., Raptors and Atlanta Old White come to mind.

Absent professional play in the U.S., prospective Eagles will continue to find it in other lands, where they compete for spots with players from Pacific Island nations.

Even if Tolkin had his choice of 15 players from the top clubs in Europe, Australia, South Africa or New Zealand, he would have the problem of getting them all on the same field enough times for them to jell as a unit. Another daunting task given the competing professional schedules and the practice needs in the run-up to the World Cup.

There’s still South Africa and Japan to play in this World Cup, but it’s hard not to look ahead to 2019 when the World Cup is in Japan. For now, it looks like developing players in the States and serving as a farm system for professional leagues in other countries may be the U.S. best hope for making it through pool play in a World Cup, which isn’t going to happen this time around despite Tolkin’s statement Sunday that the Eagles still intend to win in the two remaining games in Pool B.

In the first half, aggressive tackling by the U.S. caused several mishandles by the Scotland team.
In the first half, aggressive tackling by the U.S. caused several mishandles by the Scotland team.

U.S. leads Scotland at halftime but can’t hang on to win

Titi Lamositele of Bellingham is on top of the loose ruck as the United States has the ball out against Scotland
Titi Lamositele of Bellingham is on top of the loose ruck as the United States has the ball out against Scotland

The United States rugby team led Scotland 13-6 at halftime in their Rugby World Cup match but could not hold up to the Scot’s spirited attack in the second half and went down 39-16.

The Eagles are now 0-2 in pool play with South Africa and Japan left to play. Scotland has won both of their games and leads Pool B halfway through the competition. The top two teams will advance to the quarter finals.

Titi Lamositele of Bellingham bulled over for a try to lead the U.S. to a their halftime advantage on Sunday at Elland Roads stadium in Leeds, England. At 20 minutes into the game, the Eagles won the ball from a lineout, had it out to the back line where No. 8  Samu Manoa filled in to crash through the Scots’ defense. Stopped about five yards out from the try line, the U.S. won several loose rucks before Lamositele took the ball and pressed it into pay dirt.

The U.S. scored first just past a minute in the game on a penalty kick by Alan MacGinty. But Scotland took advantage of mistakes by the U.S. to take the lead 6-3 on two penalty kicks.

The Eagles’ hard hitting seemed to put the Scots off their game, and several mishandles kept them out of the try zone.

But in the second half, Scotland found ways to score from all over the field, from the back line on the outside, then from an inside back move. Then the forwards pushed over a try before Scotland got one more from their backs. The U.S. had steady possession at the end of the game, but their best chance was lost when Olive Kilifi of the Seattle Saracens lost control of the ball when tackled hard five yards out from the line. The knock-forward resulted in a Scotland scrum and a clearing kick to get out of trouble.

But

MacGinty added one more penalty before the half, which ended with the U.S. up 13-

Bellingham player leads U.S. in first half against Scotland

Hard tackles like this one by Thretton Palamo led to mishandling by Scotland in the first half.
Hard tackles like this one by Thretton Palamo led to mishandling by Scotland in the first half.

Titi Lamositele of Bellingham bulled over for a try to lead the U.S. national rugby team to a 13-6 halftime advantage over Scotland Sunday at Elland Roads stadium in Leeds, England.

The Eagles’ hard hitting in their second match in the Rugby World Cup seemed to put the Scots off their game and several mishandles kept them out of the try zone.

The U.S. scored first just past a minute in the game on a penalty kick by Alan MacGinty. But Scotland took advantage of mistakes by the U.S. to take the lead 6-3 on two penalty kicks.

But at 20 minutes into the game, the Eagles won the ball from a lineout, had it out to the back line where No. 8  Samu Manoa filled in to crash through the Scots’ defense. Stopped about five yards out from the try line, the U.S. won several loose rucks before Lamositele took the ball from the ruck and pressed it into pay dirt.

MacGinty added one more penalty before the half, which ended with the U.S. up 13-

Barbecue in England? It’s on the weekend itinerary

American rugby fans can expect to be outnumbered in Leeds this weekend by the supporters of Scotland.

“Scotland will be the biggest group for Leeds with the U.S. a close second,” said Charlotte Rutherford, PR and Marketing Manager at Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership.

Leeds is one of the closest game venues to Scotland in the Rugby World Cup, and Rutherford said the city will be filled with Scots arriving to cheer on their team in Sunday’s match against the USA Eagles.

Canada will play Italy on Saturday at Elland Road Stadium, the first rugby union international to be played there.

Rutherford noted that for the CEO of USA Rugby, Nigel Melville, having rugby union in Leeds is like a homecoming for him as he was born in Leeds.

Rutherford said Leeds is a compact city so that fans can visit a lot in a short time. But if you only have time to visit one thing, Rutherford suggested the Henry Moore Institute. The “VisitBritain” guide to the tournament says the institute celebrates sculpture and is named after Leeds College of Art’s most famous graduate. It says the institute is “part of the Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle, which is the largest collection of modern sculpture in Europe.”

Rutherford also suggested the Leeds Art Galley, which the guide says has a broad range of exhibitions.

For food, Rutherford was downright enthusiastic about Red’s True Barbecue. BBQ in England?

“Each year Red’s takes a pilgrimage to a Southern U.S. state and brings back what they have learned and shares it.”

See you there.