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USA and Portugal Tie; So No RWC For Eagles

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USA and Portugal Tie; So No RWC For Eagles

Paul Lasike tries to find some space. Photo by Martin Dokoupil - World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images.

The USA will not be playing in Rugby World Cup 2023.

The Eagles tied Portugal in Dubai in the Final Qualifier Tournament, and with Portugal having the better Points Difference in the series of games, it is the Portuguese Lobos who will go to France, not the USA.

The Eagles didn't not execute consistently, making basic skill errors and taking bad options, and that's how the game ended. With the USA up 16-13, the Eagles ran through a series of dumb moves that turned a chance to ice the game into a penalty chance for scrumhalf Samuel Marques to slot a 42-meter penalty goal to secure the tie, and a place in RWC 2023.

The Eagles started the game relatively well, forcing Portugal to knock the kickoff forward and then after the USA pack consolidated, getting a penalty that flyhalf AJ MacGinty put through the posts.

The game quickly morphed into a kicking contest, as neither team seemed eager to play too much with the ball. But when wing Nate Augspurger was yellow-carded for a tip tackle, Portugal had their shot.

The Lobos ran with it and then kicked deep, and while it was a USA lineout at their own five-meter, they were under pressure anf the clearance kick still gave Portugal a nice lineout platform. From there Portugal went wide very quickly, and some smooth ball handling and a nifty cutback from Raffaele Storti produced a brilliant try and a 7-3 lead.

 The Eagles then had their chances, but made far, far too many mistakes. They had a lineout five meters from the Portugal line but dropped the ball. They got a penalty off a scrum and a perfect kick to touch from MacGinty,, but couldn't get it over—MacGinty instead had to settle for an easy penalty and a 7-6 scoreline.

The Americans played wide and lost the ball in the ruck. They ran Paul Lasike in tight bit with a forward pass. Up a man due to a yellow card the USA only got three points out of it—another long-range penalty was missed, and really the right option was probably to take another lineout.

In short, it was ugly. 

And finally, when the USA seemed to be able to play with the ball and get close to the Portugal line, Greg Peterson's charge was not supported in time and he was penalized.

With hardly any time in the USA 22, Portugal had the first-half lead, and when the Eagles dropped the ball in their own half and followed that up with a scrum penalty, the Lobos added to their advantage. Marques put the kick over and it was 10-6. There was time in the first half and a ruck penalty by Portugal gave MacGinty a chance from 40 meters out and he put it over to make it 10-9 at the break.

Down a point, the Eagles will have to look at the fact that they had a territorial advantage and some try-scoring opportunities on a silver platter and their own mistakes were what kept the score so low.

Second Half

Early in the second half it was the same story. A USA mistake saw a prime scoring opportunity turn instead into a long Lobos run down the sideline and a dangerous chip ahead that, mercifully for the USA, rolled into touch.

The ultimate result of that was a scrum to Portugal which resulted in a penalty, which Marques missed.

But from the 22 dropout Portugal did enough to get a slightly easier kick for Maques and the scrumhalf put this one over for a 13-9 lead.

Marques missed another shot after Kapeli Pifeleti took a player out without the ball, and it was those kinds of penalties that probably drove fans crazy.

Through much of the second half the Eagles resorted to box kicks which didn't get much territory or any tangible advantage. Even as the Eagles began to steal lineouts and work the ball wide, they ended up getting drawn into a kicking game that slowed the game down.

Finally, though, the try came. Another lineout turnover allowed for a MacGinty chip ahead and eventually the USA got a penalty and opted to tap quickly. Paul Lasike charged within an inch of the line and then a nice, flat ball to Pifeleti put the hooker over the line. Portugal got a yellow card for repeated infringements, and MacGinty converted for a 16-13 lead.

This lead wasn't enough. You got the feeling the USA was trying to work off the clock after this, but everyone knew that a tie would be enough for Portugal, and penalties can come from anywhere. An overlap on the left could have made things difficult for the Lobos, but the connection between Lasike and Dyer didn't happen. Little mistakes seemed to creep in. With Pifeleti off at hooker the USA started to lose their lineouts, and every play was filled with tension.

Ice Melts

Finally, Portugal booted the ball down the field and Augspurger fielded it, but was driven over the tryline for a five-meter scrum for Portugal. But not so fast—Portugal had knocked the ball forward at midfield. Scrum USA, and then a free kick. The Eagles punched the ball into the Portugal 22 and with some really, really good defensive work, drove Portugal back and forced a scrum-five.

Here was the big chance. Win the scrum, keep the ball in the Portugal 22, or even score a try, and ice out the final 150 seconds. Instead referee Paul Williams called a penalty against the USA team. Portugal kicked clear and ran through a series of phases at the middle of the field. Slowly they tested the USA defense, which did well but, ultimately, and perhaps inevitably, there was a penalty.

Portugal kept playing with the ball and attempted a drop goal that hit the post, but the play came back to the penalty, and with time expired, Marques put it over.

Devastation from the USA and jubilation for Portugal.

The effort level was clearly there for the USA players. There wasn't any laziness, and Portugal's vaunted backline got only the one try, but the mistakes, the tactical decisions, and key skill breakdowns all added up.

That final scrum hurt. As with many scrum penalties it could have gone either way. The USA players didn't complain and instead praised Portugal's hard work, but that final scrum could have ended the game.

"I think we could have [iced the game]," said Bryce Campbell. "But we didn’t. It’s the harsh reality of sport. It just doesn’t go your way. it was a close game, it was an arm wrestle, and Portugal are a great team. I think they're going to surprise a lot of people at the World Cup. We played in the right areas, we did what we wanted to do and I am just proud of the effort everyone put into this. Everyone stepped up with the effort tonight. The result is what it is, and the repercussions are huge, we know that, but we worked our asses off.

USA 16
Tries: Pifeleti
Convs: MacGInty
Pens: MacGinty 3

Portugal 16
Tries: Storti
Convs: Marques
Pens: Marques 3