Having lost the first leg of their RAN 1 play-off against Canada 34-21, the Eagles put in a much-improved display in the return match at Infinity Park in Colorado on Saturday, scoring six tries in a 38-16 victory.
Flanker Hanco Germishuys led the way with a hat-trick to add to the try he managed in St John's as the Eagles put last weekend’s disappointing result behind them to set up a date with Uruguay.
USA will now play Los Teros in a home-and-away series, on 2 and 9 October, to determine which of the teams will take their place in Pool A at Rugby World Cup 2023 alongside New Zealand, France, Italy and the winner of the Rugby Africa Cup 2022.
For Canada, there are still opportunities to qualify and maintain their ever-present Rugby World Cup record. Kingsley Jones’ outfit will take on Chile, the SAR 3 Naciones runners-up, with the winner to play in the Americas 2 play-off against the loser of the Americas 1 encounter between USA and Los Teros
A place in the Final Qualification Tournament in November 2022 will offer the runner-up of the Americas 2 play-off one last shot at redemption. There, they will compete with the third-placed team from the Rugby Europe Championship, the loser of the Asia/Pacific play-off and the Rugby Africa Cup runners-up for the final ticket to France 2023.
Set-piece lays the foundation for victory
Early penalties to Peter Nelson and Cooper Coats either side of one from AJ MacGinty put Canada into a 6-3 lead and extended their overall advantage in the RAN 1 play-off to 16 points.
The home side then lost Jamason Fa’anana-Schultz to a yellow card and seemed to be really up against it. But the Eagles did not panic and it wasn’t long before they seized control of the match, based on a dominant set-piece.
The first try of the match came while they were still down to 14 men, Germishuys touching down at the back of a maul.
Shortly after Fa’anana-Schultz returned to the field, USA added a second try when Christian Dyer dived over in the left corner following a powerful carry from Germishuys in the build-up.
The ever-influential Germishuys scored again just short of the half-hour mark but with MacGinty failing with the conversion, Canada still had the overall lead by a point, which they then extended to four thanks to Nelson’s second penalty.
That advantage was overturned, however, on the stroke of half-time when Germishuys struck again under the posts. MacGinty couldn’t miss on this occasion to make it 25-9 at half-time.
Scrum-half Ruben de Haas kicked USA’s first drop goal in six years four minutes into the second half to keep the momentum swinging the Eagles’ way before adding a try to his tally after he charged down his opposite number’s clearance kick and sped away to the line.
Front-rower Joe Taufete’e crashed over from close range for the Eagles’ sixth try but MacGinty’s poor night with the boot continued and another two points went begging.
At that stage though, it did not matter. USA were three scores up and a penalty try to Canada right at the end was scant consolation.
Fa’anana-Schultz was yellow-carded for the second time in the match for pulling down the maul which led to the award of the penalty try.
His dismissal and MacGinty’s inaccuracy off the tee were the only downsides, though, to a night when the Eagles kept their hopes of taking the fastest qualification route to RWC 2023 alive.
Photo credit: Travis Prior