The relief of qualifying for the 2015 World Cup affords Mike Tolkin’s charges but 18 months to ready for USARFU’s goal of reaching the quarterfinals.
Maligned halfback Mike Petri’s solo try sparked three touchdowns over eight minutes in the final quarter, swamping outmanned Uruguay. Surviving a 15-on-13 spell and another halftime deficit, in rainy Atlanta the US pitched a second-half shutout.
The two-game, three-yellow card series was uncomfortable, particularly given the weight of expectations. America most looked like a XV of overseas pros facing domestic amateurs over the final 20 minutes.
‘In the second half we moved the ball a little wider from the rucks, changed the point of attack, and used some of that space that we had,’ Tolkin said in a prepared statement. 'We played physical, we have some size to us. That was part of our agenda’.
Ultimately the US XV held its nerve, and so can enjoy the thrill of gaining entry to one of the world’s larger sporting events.
There is a tendency to project a national XV’s success or failure onto the wider union, yet for USARFU there is not overmuch glory in besting tiny Uruguay, which hasn’t America’s socioeconomic might, playing base — 8,500 players versus 1.4 million — or International Rugby Board subsidies.
As 6 of Saturday’s starting lineup ran out against Uruguay in the 2009 World Cup qualifiers, and 7 started at least twice in the 2011 World Cup (with Eric Fry and Scott Lavalla also logging significant playing time), the core of Tolkin’s World Cup depth chart looks to be firm, save as always for unwonted injuries.
There are two Pacific Nations tournaments, a pair of inbound European teams, one fall tour, a handful of ‘A’ games, and perhaps some friendlies prior to meeting Samoa, Scotland, South Africa, and (presumably) Japan, meaning match practice is in short supply. As to the players’ ‘daily training environment’, most of the starters are now overseas, with additional contenders in San Diego at the Olympic Training Center.
Since a single spring season wouldn’t be much time for any hoped-for pro league to produce results, USARFU’s best option for aiding the national team’s performance looks to be funding significantly more Eagle assembly time. As the Uruguayan series demonstrated, players in better rugby environments is not the same as playing better rugby.
The USA’s 3 known opponents are all top 10 outfits, while the Eagles are 18th. Gaining the World Cup quarterfinals will probably require three wins.