Stunned by Sunday's 22-19 injury-time defeat to Hong Kong, the Eagles are searching for an explanation of how a match they led from wire to wire slipped away. One answer seems obvious: poor decisionmaking.
The US started quickly in their third Pacific Rim league game, jumping to a 13-0 lead on the strength of a penalty try and two penalty goals from flyhalf Matt Alexander. Hong Kong replied with three penalty kicks, bringing the count to 13-9 at half, yet the Eagles had the contest in hand. Despite 80 degree heat and better than 90 percent humidity, the visitors dominated lineouts and possession in general.
Twice in the second half Hong Kong crept to within a single point, but each time Alexander immediately responded with a penalty goal. His last shot, making the score 19-15 after 75 minutes, appeared to salt the game.
As he did throughout the contest, however, Canadian referee David Steele disciplined the Eagles continuously during injury time. Winding up a sequence that began at midfield and featured four consecutive American penalties, Hong Kong number eight John Dingley bulldozed a tap move into the tryzone for the gamewinner.
US coach Jack Clark afterward brushed aside the nearly three-to-one penalty count suffered by the visitors. "This competition is committed to developing referees as well as players," he said, speaking of the Pacific Rim Rugby Championship.
The third-year head man also avoided speculating about the presence of Australian and New Zealand provincial players in the Dragon lineup, an apparent contravention of International Rugby Football Board residency requirements, but focused heavily on his team's decisionmaking. "It was an agonizing defeat," he offered. "The team played hard in difficult conditions, but I'm embarrassed at some of the decisions that we made."
The local press, too, wondered about some of captain Andre Bachelet's choices, particularly several difficult chances at goal he gave Alexander in the final minutes. Subsequently, there's been talk of a change in the team's leadership.
After taking Monday off, the US resumes training tomorrow in preparation for next Sunday's Pacific Rim match with Japan in Tokyo.