SAN ANTONIO - USA Men's Eagles captain Blaine Scully scored the match-winning try in a 29-23 defeat of Uruguay Saturday to open Americas Rugby Championship 2017 with a victory at Toyota Field.
"We stayed in it," Head Coach John Mitchell said. "We hung in there and I thought the replacements did a very nice job; everyone's had a bit of a run and that will create competition as we navigate through this competition."
Fly half Ben Cima scored 11 points as one of five debutants in the match, one of five in the second year of the ARC. The Eagles will have a changed roster for their second tournament matchup against Brazil Feb. 11 in Austin, Texas, at Dell Diamond.
As fans poured into the venue for the first ARC match on North American soil this year, the Eagles and Los Teros tested out the playing surface in wet conditions. Though the first scrum put-in would not come until the ninth minute - when debutant Peter Malcolm's throw was deemed not straight - turnovers kept either team from holding serve. Germán Albanell slotted his first of two first-half conversions in the fourth minute following the Eagles bringing down a maul five meters from the try line, and Cima replied after the restart for a level, 3-3, score line.
Though a centralized setup in South America provides Uruguay more time together than the Eagles are afforded, the U.S. was able to be somewhat dominant in the set pieces. Malcolm found his form in the lineout and the pack was only slightly pushed backwards at scrum time on one or two occasions. Olympian Zack Test had a mazy run down the wing before a kick to Uruguay found Todd Clever in a vulnerable position in a high tackle in the 13th minute. Referee Chris Assmuss flashed the yellow card, and Uruguay used another set of penalties to push over from a five-meter lineout. Albanell converted from the touch line for a 10-3 Uruguayan advantage.
Cima's second penalty kick attempt missed its target in the 18th minute but he was able to bring the Eagles within a point of their opponent at 10-9 with 22nd- and 31st-minute kicks. The U.S. also kept Uruguay from seriously threatening to kill off Clever's sinning.
A series of put-ins followed mishandled possessions before the Eagles used a 22-meter lineout to take their first lead of the match. AJ MacGinty, at inside center, received the ball from the set piece and stepped around a defender 15 meters from the line. He freed his hands in contact with a second defender with Bryce Campbell in support for the Indiana University student-athlete's first career test try and a 16-10 score line. The Eagles' final stand five meters from their try line in the dying seconds of the half resulted in a penalty to Uruguay, with Albanell bringing the halftime score to 16-13.
Test was carted off of the field in the late stages of the first half under suspicion of a concussion, and was taken through the proper protocols. His status for the remainder of the Americas Rugby Championship will be updated in the coming week.
"The first half was untidy with untidy delivery," Mitchell said. "It cost us the gain line but that first try was an example of good delivery. We had good defensive lines, too; I just thought we were passive in the tackle and Uruguay were more aggressive at the breakdown."
Albanell used a few second-half penalties against the Eagles to pin the U.S. back with kicks to touch, with a 45th-minute lineout from five meters out uncontested by the home team. The U.S. prepared for the maul, but could not stop Uruguayan captain Alejandro Nieto from diving over the try line, giving his side a 20-16 lead.
MacGinty began to have more of an influence on the game to bring the backs into the action, with Campbell and Nate Augspurger turning around the defense. As the Eagles neared the try line in the 49th minute, Augspurger took a quick tap behind the 22 and was taken out by Juan Manuel Cat in front of the referee's 10-meter mark for a trip to the sin bin.
The ensuing five-meter lineout did not yield points for the U.S. as Mitchell began to make substitutions. Will Magie made his international debut in the 52nd minute prior to Uruguay's cross-field kick being intercepted mid-air by Scully. Unfortunately for the Eagles the captain's offload to Campbell and the center's unopposed run to the post was nullified for a penalty against James Hilterbrand closer to the spot of the kick.
Albanell turned the penalty into points the other way with a penalty kick before Nate Brakeley's work in the breakdown put MacGinty in front of the posts for a three-pointer of his own. John Quill's penalty in the 58th minute went unpunished to keep the score at 23-19, and a Uruguay chip aimed at the try line provided a platform for a U.S. attack. The Eagles kept possession from a five-meter lineout, and debutant Magie placed a low kick across the field into the corner of the try zone for Scully to pick out of the air. The captain grounded the ball with a defender in the vicinity and MacGinty nailed the tough conversion for a 26-23 lead the Eagles would not relinquish.
MacGinty had three opportunities to grow the lead but only made one of his conversion attempts for a 29-23 score line. Uruguay was given a late chance as time expired with possession within 15 meters of the try line, but could not break the Eagles' defense before they won a penalty to end the game.
The Americas Rugby Championship continues in Texas Saturday, Feb. 11, when the Eagles host Brazil at Dell Diamond in Austin. A second win would put them in good stead heading into away games in Canada and South America. All of the U.S. matches in the competition will be available to watch live on The Rugby Channel.
Men's Eagles | v. Uruguay
1. Anthony Purpura (Maughan @ 59')
2. Peter Malcolm (Hilterbrand @ 51')
3. Chris Baumann (Waldren @ 51')
4. Nate Brakeley (Jensen @ 59')
5. Nick Civetta
6. John Quill
7. Todd Clever (Lamborn @ 53')
8. Al McFarland
9. Nate Augspurger (Davies @ 71')
10. Ben Cima (Magie @ 52')
11. Zack Test (Eloff @ 40')
12. AJ MacGinty
13. Bryce Campbell
14. Blaine Scully (C)
15. Mike Te'o
Uruguay | v. USA
1. Mateo Sanguinetti (Beniítez @ 71')
2. Facundo Gattas (Pombo @ 71')
3. Juan Echeverría (Inciarte @ 77')
4. Ignacio Dotti
5. Diego Ayala (Magno @ 65')
6. Rodolfo Garese (Ormaechea @ 65')
7. Franco Lamanna
8. Alejandro Nieto (C)
9. Santiago Arata (Lijtenstein @ 69')
10. Germán Albanell
11. Andrés Rocco (Berchesi @ 59')
12. Juan de Freitas (Gibernau @ 59')
13. Juan Manuel Cat
14. Leandro Leivas
15. Rodrigo Silva
Uruguay | Reserves
16. Diego Pombo
17. Matías Benítez
18. Felipe Inciarte
19. Juan Diego Ormaechea
20. Diego Magno
21. Guillermo Lijtenstein
22. Francisco Berchesi
23. Gastón Gibertnau
Men's Eagles | 29
Tries: Campbell, Scully
Conversions: Cima, MacGinty
Penalties: Cima (3), MacGinty (2)
Discipline: Clever (Yellow)
Uruguay | 23
Tries: Gattas, Nieto
Conversions: Albanell (2)
Penalties: Albanell (3)
Discipline: Cat (Yellow)
USA Eagles | Americas Rugby Championship