In an emotional, yet inspiring match, the USA Women’s Eagles concluded their Rugby World Cup contention this afternoon in a loss to North American rival Canada, 32-11.
The USA played a well-organized match for most of the game, but a 20-minute stretch out of halftime saw No. 3 ranked Canada pace away with a flurry of tries and penalty goals, a point race the USA were not able to come back from, despite a lot of intent to the final whistle. The biggest reflection in this quarterfinal match will be the pure character this USA team displayed going into a tough rematch. The early portion of the first half showed the Eagles run out harder than they had all tournament, with pace and physicality that earned them first points in an underdog match. Most notably, the same intent and fight kept burning through all 80 minutes as the USA showed the USA Rugby community how proud they are to represent their friends, family and country in a Rugby World Cup. While match play may be over, the impact and legacy this team will have is only just beginning.
Captain Kate Zackary on her comments to the team post-match, “Just that I’m really proud of them. It’s a really emotional time, it’s been a really hard tournament for a lot of the girls but we talked last night about win or lose, we were going to walk off this pitch proud.
“I really couldn’t be more proud, not just of the 32 players that are here right now, but the 36 that were selected for this, [including] traveling reserves, our entire pool back at home who have been training hard the last four years for this moment, they’ve given everything to make sure the team today was most prepared.
“So, thank you to everyone back at home, thank you to everyone in the pool but a special thanks to all the fans and just letting your players come hang out with us for the last month.”
Heart rates were on the rise for the early portion of this game, with the USA owning possession and picking up pace right after kickoff. Visibly playing with an increased physicality to set the tone against a stout Canadian team. The bold play paid off with some quality defensive stops to keep Canada on their heels and eventually result in first points from Joanna Kitlinski. Scrumhalf Carly Waters carried the ball deep into the opposite end after picking up from the ruck and sprinting for about 20 meters. Canada expected Waters to feed the backs, but instead she found a wide-open left flank and gave the USA a 5-meter line out. Much improved from the pool stages, this line out resulted in points as Kitlinski crashed the line for five.
Head Coach Rob Cain said of the early going, “I think it was a physical contest and, you know, we knew what they were going to do. We learnt from last week, I think everyone could see the type of rugby we were trying to play that first half.”
The rain didn’t quite pick up until the second half, but the pitch was wet and both teams tried to play to that advantage, most notably through the kicking game. Both squads went to the air quite a bit, hoping the other would fumble the wet ball and offer ground through the knock on. Canada would take advantage first, allowing a kick to touch and engage the rolling maul to try. Something they were clinical with during the pool play match. Scrappy play found them in the try zone again after the USA defense nearly ran them out of bounds, but a grubber kick broke the line and sent Karen Paquin in a foot race with Jennine Detiveaux for the ball. Paquin would win it, tapping the bouncing ball for a try.
Down 12-5, the USA still did well to keep composure in the high-pressure quarterfinal. Methodically going through phases and keeping possession into the red zone, a focus for Rob Cain’s group following the pool stages. It nearly paid off as Hope Rogers did what she does best, finishing goal line drives and getting the ball over the line. It was a brief celebration however as the TMO tapped in to review and overturned the try. Try or no try, this was a special match for Rogers as she earned her 41st international appearance, solely securing her spot as the second most capped USA Women’s Eagle in history. Right behind coach, former teammate and close friend, Jamie Burke.
With halftime approaching, the USA elected for Kelter to add three and send us to the break. 40 minutes in, it’s USA 8, Canada 12.
The first 25 minutes of the second half was the dagger for Canada. Aside from another brilliant 40-meter penalty goal from Kelter, the Canadian’s pace started to take over as they put up two unanswered tries and two penalty kicks in that time frame. 10 of Canada’s 32 points came off the boot of Sophie De Goede. After a high collision, Kelter would be shown a yellow card and step off the pitch for the next 10 minutes. Against the player advantage, the USA would only allow a penalty goal before a late try in Kelter’s absence.
Now with a comfortable 29-11 lead, Canada began to put up a defensive wall and watch the clock tick away. The USA however showed no intimidation, to their opponent or the game clock. With substitutes coming on, the same speed and intent we saw in the first 30 minutes was on display through to the final whistle. After 80 minutes, the final score reads Canada 32, USA 11.
Cain added, “I’m so proud of the players' efforts, they really tried to, but you know when the ball is greasy and you don't win those kick-chase battles, unfortunately that's going to happen.
“It’s been a great experience, obviously. In terms of lessons, we do the video, we do the review, we see what we could've done better. That's the challenge. How can we get better every day from staff, players, myself included. And then we’ll look to really adjust the things that we need to.”
Emotions were visibly high for the USA when they collected as a group to hear closing comments from Captain Kate Zackary. With the accomplishments of competing in a Rugby World Cup and a few players potentially playing their final game in a USA jersey, emotions and pride are deservedly great. This squad more than most have shown what it means to love the game of rugby. From personal and professional sacrifices, to a year’s postponement, each and every player earned their stripes to represent in New Zealand and will have that fulfillment forever. Despite the loss, young women across the States will have watched this team play all 80 minutes with tenacity and go to sleep with hopes of doing the same in three years’ time when the Rugby World Cup returns to England. Even more so the younger girls who now have the inspiration to pick up a rugby ball and begin their journey to play in a Rugby World Cup on home soil in 2033.
When asked about setting the stage for 2033, Cain answered, “I mean, we've still got a lot of rugby that's going to be played between [now and] then, you know, and as a team we've spoken about where we want to end up.
“We do want to be one of the top three teams in the world. We know that there's a bridge to get there. We know there's distance between us and those teams, and we're working very hard to add different elements to our game to ensure that we can get the results that we want.”
Zackary’s closing comments on what she and the team will remember most, “Just the little memories. The rugby and the games are what we come here for, but I think it’s the memories we make off the pitch. The memories Monday through Friday, it’s the Tik-Toks that they make us do, it’s the games late at night, the movie nights and the family dinners out. It’s all those moments where you get to know each other and you get to know the person in the jersey and not just the player.”