With 80 minutes to go before another Rugby World Cup, the US men’s national rugby team hoped to celebrate their success with home fans last weekend.
Chile had other ideas.
Although the USA played on American soil and only needed a win or a draw to qualify for next fall’s World Cup in France, the USA lost to Chile on Saturday in a big upset that gave the guests their first World Cup spot and brought Americans their first overall victory since 2002 in the most brutal way.
Now the Eagles’ status has gone from near certainty to suddenly precarious for their ninth World Cup appearance as the team must win a qualifying tournament later this year against three other nations, some of which may offer greater challenges than Chile to their flights to to book France.
It’s not where the US wanted to find itself, but it’s now a hole to find its way out of. Quickly.
Here’s a rundown of the loss to Chile, along with what’s to come as the Eagles push further towards World Cup qualifiers.
The disaster in a suburb of Denver
The goal was simple and the conditions were ideal: all USA had to do to get back to Rugby World Cup was not lose to Chile in front of their home crowd.
Seems easy enough, right? And with the Eagles taking a 19-0 lead within the first half hour at Infinity Park in Glendale, Colo. and catching up on Chile by 20 points overall, it looked like things would be smooth sailing for the US the rest of the way .
But 14 unanswered points in the last 10 minutes of the first half revitalized Los Condores, while Chile’s second half from a 29-21 deficit with less than 20 minutes of play proved to be the one that brought it its first ever World Cup.
Glendale final. pic.twitter.com/yJV2OQ50Hh
— USA Rugby (@USARugby) July 16, 2022
Prop Matias Dittus came over the line in the 63rd minute, while Santiago Videla’s subsequent kick (via a subsequent conversion and a 75th-minute penalty) gave the Chileans a 31-29 lead, which they held until the final whistle blew – a two-point lead that gave them a one-point win overall.
Chile next year will now be their first Rugby World Cup debut since Russia in 2011, capping a magical qualifying streak in which coach Pablo Lemoine’s side eliminated World Cup star Canada and USA in back-to-back rounds into the last Qualifying tournament sent their backs to the wall.
Although it was a dream day for the Chileans, it was a nightmare for the Americans, who cannot let up now with their status on the top stage in international rugby still at stake.
Back to the drawing board
Coach Gary Gold is now clearly in danger of missing the first Rugby World Cup since 1995 and needs to rejuvenate the Eagles in time for the final qualifier later this year – a group USA sees as far from favorites on paper.
Failure to reach the tournament next year would be disastrous for the development of the sport in America, especially given the growing popularity of Major League Rugby and the country winning the right to host both the Men’s and Women’s World Cups in 2031 and align in 2033. respectively.
Although the U.S. often looked like the stronger team in both games against Chile, there were brief periods in both games when the Eagles seemed to fall apart, with this inconsistency proving to be one of the key factors in why the U.S. didn’t win on a World Cup slot last weekend.
A last-minute Chilean try in Santiago, for example, prevented the Eagles from having a more commanding eight-point lead for their home game versus what was actually a one-point lead, while Santiago Videla kicked Videla through the two games (9 for 10) compared to the Kicking by American AJ MacGinty (7 of 10) also helped give Los Condores a slight advantage overall.
Grítalo si eres Chileno!!! pic.twitter.com/AW8u4HN5nH
— ☆ CHILE RUGBY (@chilerugby) July 16, 2022
A full 80 minutes must be an expectation, not a hope, for the USA if they hope to secure a spot in France – without it the Eagles could very well be watching the next World Cup from home.
Final Qualifying Tournament
If there’s one bright spot from the shock defeat to Chile, it’s that the absolute worst case scenario for the USA has materialized and they still have a chance of qualifying for the next Rugby World Cup.
However, the path that now lies ahead of us is anything but easy. The Eagles will be the American representative in November’s Final Qualification Tournament, a round-robin event at a neutral venue in Dubai where the top-ranked team will secure a spot in Pool C with Wales, Australia and Fiji after completing all games and Georgia.
The Final Qualification Tournament (which was then won by Samoa) was first introduced for the 2019 World Cup and will determine the last remaining place for next year in France, while all other teams go away empty-handed. Match schedules, times and dates will be announced later this month following the conclusion of the Asia-Pacific play-offs between Tonga and Hong Kong.
With that in mind, here’s a quick look at the opponents (both confirmed and possible) the Americans will face this fall in the United Arab Emirates.
Portugal (Europe 3)
World ranking (as of 7/11): 19
Appearance at Rugby World Cup: 2007
The facts: Portugal became one of the rugby world’s darlings in 2007 when then-amateur Lobos secured a berth at the Rugby World Cup in France, scoring in all four games against monstrous opposition and even flirting with an annoyed win over Romania in the process.
Will history repeat itself 16 years later? Based on the current form of coach Patrice Lagisquet’s squad, there’s a good chance that could be the case. Portugal last month hosted a Tier 1 nation (Italy) for the first time since 1996 and led by less than 10 minutes from a late Italian comeback, then last weekend saw periods of strong performance with a 23-14 loss to six away from -time World Cup qualifier Georgia.
When you beat Canada for the first time in your history!
What a day for Portugal 👏🙌 pic.twitter.com/Zn82WkE4wh
– World Rugby (@WorldRugby) November 7, 2021
Facing stiff competition a few months before their last chance to qualify for next autumn’s World Cup could be a decision that pays dividends for Portugal and Os Lobos’ performances in the process make them a team , which no nation wants to have in the final qualifying tournament now playing.
In addition, 24 players called up to Lagisquet’s most recent squad play club rugby with Lisbon-based side Lusitanos, who recently finished runners-up in the inaugural Rugby Europe Super Cup competition – a Europe-wide tournament featuring clubs from non-sixth nations-countries.
As a rugby nation that seems to be improving fast, Portugal are the team to beat in the final qualifier, even with countries like the United States and possibly Tonga playing alongside.
Hong Kong/Tonga (Asia/Pacific Play-off runners-up)
World ranking (as of 7/11): 18th (Tonga), 21st (Hong Kong)
Rugby World Cup appearances:
Tonga: 1987, 1995, 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015, 2019
Hong Kong: Never
The facts: Tonga and Hong Kong will play for a spot at the next Rugby World Cup at the Sunshine Coast Stadium in neutral Australia on Saturday, with the loser being demoted to play in next autumn’s final qualifying tournament for a spot in France.
Tonga should be big favorites to reach their ninth World Cup, but as the play-offs between Chile and the United States proved, just about anything is possible in Rugby World Cup qualifying. However, should Tonga get angry with Hong Kong later this month, the Sea Eagles would likely become instant favorites to win the Final Qualification Tournament.
They have a squad full of players in top leagues and with previous World Cup experience such as B. Prop master Ben Tameifuna (who weighs a gargantuan 322 pounds) and captain and scrum-half Sonata Takulua.
But, don’t sleep in Hong Kong, the Dragons have greatly improved their position on the world stage over the past decade with a burgeoning domestic scene and three straight Asia Rugby Championship victories to take Japan’s place as the continent’s best team.
South African-born fly-half Matthew Rosslee was Hong Kong’s top scorer in two of those Asian Rugby Championship victories and is still a force for the Dragons at 35 – although a trip to the Rugby World Cup would no doubt be a career crowning achievement for the former player from Griquas and Western Province.
Kenya (Rugby Africa Cup runners-up 2021)
World ranking (as of 7/11): 33
Rugby World Cup appearances: Never
The facts: Kenya, arguably the biggest underdog in the final qualifying tournament, has nonetheless had an impressive record of success on their continent, winning two Rugby Africa Cups in 2011 and 2013 and making a place in the qualifiers for the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
However, no African country (other than South Africa and Namibia) has qualified for the World Cup since Ivory Coast in 1995, and on paper it doesn’t look like the streak will be broken anytime soon.
Nonetheless, the Simbas have an impressive professional career, with many national team players playing in the eponymous squad, which plays in South Africa’s Currie Cup First Division.
Kenyan rugby is best known for its status as a core team in the Sevens, with several stars from that team making the crossover to the 15 for the Africa Cup, including Collins Injera (one of the all-time try leaders in the World Rugby Sevens Series ). ) and team captain Jacob Ojee.
But Kenya faces an uphill battle in the final qualifying tournament, especially considering Namibia – who currently hold a similar world ranking to the rest of the group of 23 – edged the Simbas 36-0 in this year’s Africa Cup of Nations finals with a place in the final defeated the World Cup at stake.