In front of 4,000 raucous fans in Glendale, Colorado, los Condores of Chile downed the US Eagles 31-29 in a riotous game to secure a place in France next year, 52-51 on aggregate over two qualifying matches. The Americans, who will host the men’s World Cup in 2031 and the women two years later, still have a chance to qualify but must do so through the sudden-death repechage event.
World Rugby, which has nine years to sell its game to the American public, will be hugely concerned – and hugely delighted for Los Condores, who were mightily impressive in their refusal to back down and the verve of their backline attacks before their pack, battered all day, won the penalty that won a World Cup spot.
On a hot afternoon in the Denver suburbs there was a bit of kick tennis to start but when the Eagles kept the ball in hand they threatened, AJ MacGinty, the captain from Sale in England, darting from fly-half. Chile stymied one lineout drive with Joe Taufete’e on the ball but at the scrum, thanks to the hooker, David Ainu’u of Toulouse and Paul Mullen of Utah, the South Americans had problems.
The first try was a little harum-scarum – a lineout, a drive, a blindside break from the scrum-half, Ruben de Haas of Saracens, a kick from Martin Iosefo of Seattle and a bit of juggling from de Haas to give his wing the try. MacGinty converted.
The Eagles were choosing to scrummage when possible, rumbling the Chileans backwards. They turned down a penalty shot when only 7-0 up, 29-21 on aggregate. It was almost the right choice – the lineout move worked but the flanker Hanco Germishuys knocked on over the line.
Iosefo scored the second try too, on the end of a concerted attack, left to right, short and wide passes and heavy work from the big men. Nick Civetta, a big second row once of Newcastle and Doncaster, now of New York, slipped a vital pass from contact. That made it 14-0, 36-21 over the two games.
Chile had barely carried the ball and when they did get it they chose to kick. The Eagles chose a scrum from a close penalty, Chile held, the other US lock, Greg Peterson, crashed over only to see the try ruled out because the referee, Luke Pearce, ruled himself in the way of the nearest defender. No matter – the next scrum rumbled forward, Cam Dolan flipped the ball from No8 and MacGinty jinked over.
At 19-0 on half an hour, 41-21 over the two games, the Eagles’ ticket to France looked booked. But rugby’s crackdown on head contact threw Chile a lifeline, Civetta seeing a yellow card for an intervention at a ruck, avoiding red because Pearce saw him hit Chile’s prop Salvador Lues on the body first, then the head.
Chile kicked to touch, drove the lineout and saw their scrum-half, Marcelo Torrealba, dummy and dart for a fine try. Santiago Videla converted: 19-7 on the day, 41-28 over the two games. Incredibly there was more to come before half-time, Lues making a rumbling break and Matias Garafulic, the centre, scoring when the ball went wide. With the conversion from Videla it was 19-14, 41-35 overall. Game very much on.
The vernacular term for the penalty offence which could have let Chile close to 19-17 straight away in the second half is “shithousery”: Taufete’e chose to throw a Chilean forward’s boot from the field. It was needless as it was potentially costly. Videla missed the kick. After that, Civetta came back on.
Chile brought on front-row replacements. No matter, the Eagles pack went forward. Chile went down, conceding a third scrum penalty. Again, the Eagles went for the corner, spurning three points. Chile collapsed the maul. MacGinty went to the corner. This time Taufete’e broke from the maul and, a more palatable sort of mobile outhouse, steamrolled Torrealba for a try. Taufete’e, once of Worcester and Lyon, has 23 tries in 35 Tests – the most by any hooker, anywhere. MacGinty converted for 26-14, 48-35 on aggregate.
Yet again Chile came back. Videla scored the try off an outstanding break from Rodrigo Fernandez, the fly-half who went 80 metres for a try in Santiago in the first leg. Videla kicked the conversion and again the scores closed, to 26-21 on the day and 48-42 overall.
Iosefo went desperately close to a hat-trick after a series of US smashes at the line, only to be pushed out of play. The second hydration break came then and in a measure of how serious things were, MacGinty finally chose to go for the points. He kicked it: 29-21 and 51-42 to the Eagles.
Yet again Chile closed, the replacement prop Matias Dittus crashing over and Videla converting. USA 29-28, 51-49 on aggregate. Then Tavite Lopete was penalised for putting his hands in a ruck. Francico Urroz lined up the kick from distance, for the lead, and missed.
A scrum penalty won by Angus McClennan of Utah, on in a wholly fresh US front row, might’ve been the moment the Eagles escaped to victory. MacGinty kicked them downfield, but then kicked the ball out on the full. Benja Bonasso of New York stole the Chile lineout. Nate Augspurger, on at scrum-half for the US, kicked straight into touch himself. Nerves were shredded.
And then Chile, suddenly, splintered the Eagles pack for a penalty. For all American rugby, it was simply agonising. Videla took aim. It went over and Chile led, 31-29, 52-51 on aggregate.
The Eagles smashed forward. Germishuys was turned over. Dolan made a vital turnover of his own and then Chile’s Javier Carrasco failed to roll away at a ruck. MacGinty lined up the penalty for the win and the World Cup but it was reversed for a dangerous neck-roll at the ruck. Chile cleared to touch – and glory.
July 17, 2022 at 02:57AM Martin Pengelly