PARIS, France – Two tries by the Women’s Eagles may have been the difference in Saturday’s match at IRB Women’s Rugby World Cup 2014 that saw New Zealand win, 34-3.
Two tries were taken away from the Eagles – tries that would have put the U.S. ahead with 30 minutes remaining in the contest. Instead, New Zealand piled on four tries to finish out the match.
“Even if we had taken all the chances that we had, I’m not sure we would have walked away with a win, but now our goal is to play them again,” said Eagles Head Coach Pete Steinberg on the end of the match.
As both teams were eliminated from the semifinals prior to the match, each had at least secured a spot in the fifth-eighth place rounds and a possibility of facing each other again.
Ireland won Pool B by beating Kazakhstan and a draw between England and Canada ensured both the Eagles and Black Ferns would be sent to the lower-placement competition no matter the outcome of the tie. Competitions for placement matches have yet to be announced.
Despite the relegation, the outcome of the match would be used in seeding teams for the placement matches. The winner would be the top seed of the fifth-eighth place contests with the loser potentially being seventh.
As a result, winning the competition was still critical.
Despite the unfortunate news, the biggest blow for the Eagles may have come from losing Kate Daley to injury in the first half. The number eight fractured her left leg while being tackled by a New Zealand defender.
The injury will sideline Daley for the remainder of the World Cup.
To compound the matter, in the closing moments of the first half, down 12-0, Eagle Sarah Walsh picked the ball from a breakdown and dove over for the Eagles’ first points. Play was halted as Black Fern players on the ground pushed the ball back onto the line.
Although the ball was in a scoring position, a penalty was instead awarded from Walsh’s play for a breakdown infraction – nullifying the points.
Despite numerous phases and subsequent infractions from New Zealand neither a try nor a card was awarded as the half came to a close.
In the opening moments of the second half, Hope Rogers picked the ball cleanly from a breakdown, diving over the try-line with the ball underneath her. With both arms firmly on the ball, the prop was cited for a knock-on, awarding possession to New Zealand.
Kimber Rozier, however, tallied what would be the Eagles’ only points moments later. A penalty kick put the U.S. closer at 12-3 with 20 minutes remaining in the contest.
The change of momentum proved too much for the Eagles as New Zealand capitalized on the mental change. In total, the Black Ferns amassed 22 points in the waning moments of the match.
Despite all of the misfortunes, Steinberg still drew many positives from the match.“I think the highlight for us was the two 20-minute periods where we completely dominated the Black Ferns and they couldn’t get outside of their own 22-meters,” commented Steinberg of his team’s efforts. “We really, really played some great rugby.”
The defensive effort also stood out to the Eagles staff.
“We knew what we were going to do and we defended them really well,” continued Steinberg. “Our strategy was pretty effective.”
The loss now pits the Eagles as the seventh seed heading into the placement rounds. The U.S. will face the loser of the France-Australia match.
Kickoff for the match is set for 2:30 P.M. ET Wednesday at FFR Headquarters in Marcoussis.
Early penalties by the Black Ferns gave the U.S. the early territorial edge. However, regrouping quickly and taking back the territory through kicks, New Zealand found itself on the front foot.
Kelly Brazier made the most of the territorial shift scoring the match’s first points, converting her own try.
Moments later New Zealand turned over an Eagles lineout maul, quickly moving the ball to Claire Richardson’s hands, who furthered the Black Ferns’ lead, 12-0.
The Eagles took another shot as captain Daley broke her leg less than halfway through the period. However, the Eagles soldiered on to put the Black Ferns under pressure.
With the half coming to a close, Walsh touched the ball down for a try, but a five-meter penalty was awarded instead. Numerous phases ensued for the Eagles before turning it over and letting the Black Ferns clear the ball.
The U.S. finished out the half strong, playing in New Zealand’s half the rest of the way.
Several opportunities came close to a score with every drive; however, each was stopped short, being turned over at the breakdown – allowing the Black Ferns to clear the ball and take the 12-0 lead into the break.
The Eagles kept the pressure on as the second half kicked off. Rogers slid around a breakdown to dot down a try; however, the play was called a knock-on.
Repeat offenses around the breakdown from New Zealand saw Linda Itunu sin-binned minutes later.
A penalty in front of the posts gave way to the Eagles’ first points. Rozier slotted the penalty goal, lessening the deficit, 12-3.
The Black Ferns took the territory on the ensuing kick and held the ground until Itunu returned.
Capitalizing on the territory and a return to full strength, Huriana Manuel capped of the drive. Brazier was unable to convert on the try, leaving the score 17-3.
Kendra Cocksedge pushed the Black Fern lead next, scooting around a breakdown and outdistancing defenders for a try. Brazier converted the try – 24-3.
New Zealand scoring continued as Honey Hireme broke the Eagles’ defense. The reserve dotted the score down, boosting the Black Ferns, 29-3.
Justine Lavea finished off the scoring as the match came to a close. The try ended the game at 34-3.
The loss drops the Eagles’ World Cup record to 23-8 all-time.
(From USA Rugby Press Release)