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USA Battles Hard but Georgia Wins

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USA Battles Hard but Georgia Wins

Photo Irakli Bigvava for USA Rugby.

Georgia defeated the USA 22-7 Saturday evening in Tbilisi, capping off a 1-2 summer tour for the Eagles.

The performance by the USA overall was hit and miss. Several issues from last week’s loss to Portugal saw improvement, including better intent with ball-in-hand, better kick chase and defense on counterattacks, and fewer mistakes.

But there were still some mistakes, often at crucial moments.

Get Your Kicks

The game began with some high balls back and forth as both teams were looking for an advantage. Georgia got the ball of the early exchange thanks to a penalty against the Eagles and they took a lineout and set up the maul. The Eagles defended very well, and while they were penalized, Georgia opted to avoid a maul the second time and tapped.

Once again the USA defense was strong on their try line and when the Lelos went wide Christian Dyer reached up and knocked a skip pass up into the air before the ball ended in fullback Chris Mattina’s hands. The Eagles got out of trouble from there.

But instead of being able to change the momentum, the Eagles got caught out with a holding-on penalty and back came Georgia. The Lelos tried the maul again, and while the Eagle forwards sacked the jumper, the ball was sent wide where a smart blocker line helped take Tavite Lopeti out of the play and that left wing Kaki Tabutsadze with a one-on-one with Mattina. A little shake-and-bake and the winger had his 30th test try in the corner.

Up 5-0 Georgia was very quick on the ball and with that the Eagles found little front-foot ball. Much of the first half saw scrumhalf Ruben de Haas launching box kicks to try to put the Lelos under pressure. As the kicking exchanges went on both Mattina and flyhalf Luke Carty produced some very good kicks to keep the exchange at a stalemate.

But then a really avoidable mistake. Carty took a mark in his 22 and then booted the ball down the field. However, the mark was not take correctly—apparently some USA players were in front of the ball. So suddenly Georgia had an attacking scrum in the USA 22.

It was a huge turnaround. Georgia eventually got a penalty, took the lineout, and mauled it over. Trytime, and with the conversion Georgia led 12-0 at 27 minutes.

A Spark

Already the Eagles had encountered a setback with starting No. 8 Thomas Tu’avao being forced to leave due to injury. His replacement, Luke White, had started the previous two games, but still he wasn’t expected to take the field after 13 minutes.

In trouble and not looking threatening with the ball, the Eagles turned up the heat. They ran a sequence with some good, hard running and the ball coming out of the rucks quickly. Funny how that works. There was a little space on the edge and some snappy passing from Carty and Mattina put Dyer in space down the sideline. The wing did very well to make ground and then he saw De Haas running a smart support line and passed inside for the scrumhalf to take it 25 meters to score.

It was a brilliant try, a glimpse of what the USA can do, but it was also not repeated. 

Carty converted and it was 12-7.

With time winding down in the first half the Eagles had a chance to equalize.

The TMO saw a high tackle from Georgia wing Alexander Todua and that turned a Lelo scrum into a USA penalty inside the Georgian 22. The Eagles moved on from there, crashing to the line and then getting another penalty and surging on again. Georgia’s defense was impressive, and the USA attack unimaginative. The result? With time up the Lelos turned the ball over on their tryline and kicked it dead.

It was a badly missed chance for the Americans as they could have gone into the sheds tied or even ahead.


Second Half Woes

Still up a player in the second half, the Eagles now had Dom Besag on for his first cap (by our count the fourth teenager to be capped in USA history) in place of an injured Tommaso Boni (before halftime), and Paul Mullen replacing Kaleb Geiger at tighthead prop. 

And they again had a chance to tie the game. But a frustrating holding-on penalty killed that chance and Georgia was soon in the USA half. 

A brilliant inside ball to Davit Nineshvili saw the fullback cut back into a gap left by the over-pursuing USA defenders, and he was in for the try. Luka Matkava converted and it was 19-7. Once again the USA team had given up a try while the opposition was shorthanded.

The Eagles did get a chance to answer and had a lineout five meters from the Georgian line. But as they had done against Romania a couple of times, the forwards became overeager and set up the maul too early—obstruction, and Portugal had another letoff.

This would be the theme for the rest of the game when the USA had the ball. While there were few knock-ons or mistakes of that nature, slow support in key rucks led to momentum-killing penalties.

Matkava added a nicely-taken long-range penalty, but much of the the rest of the half was a kicking exchange. For the most part the Eagles held their own there, but as the game came to a close some broken play led to reserve prop Guard Gogichashvili to blast through a gap, steamroll Luke Carty, and almost do the same to Nate Augspurger. The diminutive USA wing barely hung on to make the tackle and then made another from an offside position to stop Georgia from scoring another try. Yes, a professional foul and a yellow card, but an effective one as it did prevent a try, and the USA eventually got the ball back.

The final Eagle attack ended with a turnover, and while the Americans forced a knock-on to end the game, it was still a frustrating way to end it.

Overall there were some highlight performances—Augspurger was very brave in the air and in traffic; the De Haas try was very nice to watch; captain Greg Peterson put everything into his effort; Mattina was very good under the kicks, making kicks, running’s and linking.

But split-second hesitations in getting to the ruck quickly (a topic Cam Dolan and Sam Golla discussed two weeks ago) cost them. Every Georgia point was based off USA penalties, and often exacerbated by Eagle mistakes. Offensively, if the USA could get some better continuity, they would cause some trouble.

Tries: De Haas
Convs: Carty

USA Roster: 1. Jack Iscaro; 2. Dylan Fawsitt; 3. Kaleb Geiger; 4. Sam Golla; 5. Greg Peterson (C); 6. Cam Dolan; 7. Paddy Ryan; 8. Thomas Tu'avao; 9. Ruben de Haas; 10. Luke Carty; 11. Nate Augspurger (VC); 12. Tommaso Boni; 13. Tavite Lopeti; 14. Christian Dyer; 15. Chris Mattina

16. Peter Malcolm (on at 67); 17. Jake Turnbull (on at 67); 18. Paul Mullen (on at 40); 19. Nate Brakeley (on at 69); 20. Luke White (on at 13); 21. Nick McCarthy (on at 47); 22. Dominic Besag (on at 35); 23. Lauina Futi (on at 70)

Georgia 22
Tries: Tabutsadze, Forwards, Niniashvili
Convs: Matkava 2
Pens: Matkava