The USA Women’s National Team (WNT) won its first test since the Rugby World Cup, defeating Spain 20-14 in Madrid. The Eagles now ready for the opening round of the Pacific Four Series, which begins with Canada on April 1.
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The Eagles built some early momentum as power prop Hope Rogers scored the first of her two tries in the opening five minutes, 5-0. But that momentum didn’t necessarily build in the subsequent 15 minutes. The game was spent in Spain’s end, but U.S. handling errors – some pressured, some not – broke up the game and saw scoring opportunities go unrealized. Spain’s defense did its part, clearing when it could, and weathered a tsunami of penalties. Finally the home side was able to kick its way out of its end after 25 minutes.
Near the 28-minute-mark, the penalty count for the USA started to creep up, and Spain was able to attack a bit more. Then from approximately 40 meters out, fullback Claudia Peña knocked over the first of three penalty kicks: 5-3 USA.
The Eagles quickly re-established the point differential, sending the restart deep into Spanish territory. New cap Summer Harris-Jones booked it to the ballcarrier and blocked the return kick (how!?), forcing an in-goal grounding and dropout. Regrouping on attack, the USA drew a penalty dead center, just outside the 22, and Gabby Cantorna slotted the three points: 8-3 at 31 minutes.
First Half Snaps 📸 pic.twitter.com/dy1m7xM8MJ
— USA Rugby (@USARugby) March 25, 2023
But the half’s final say belonged to Spain. A high-tackle penalty and another one in the maul set up the Spanish for an attacking lineout on the USA’s 10. The Eagles stole the set piece, but didn’t get great distance on the clear. The USA had another chance to relieve some pressure off a solid scrum, but Spain’s wing did a nice job of snagging the kick before it sailed into touch. Shortly afterward, an offsides penalty allowed Peña to line up the off-center kick approximately 25 meters out: 8-6 into the break.
Spain knocked on the second-half kickoff and the USA went to work quickly. The Eagles attacked to the line and center Bulou Mataitoga did an excellent job of collecting a bouncing pass, gaining ground on the sideline and then feeding Eti Haungatau back inside. Defenders wrapped all around the center, and they all plowed into the try zone together. Haungatau grounded in the corner: 13-6.
The Eagles were the more powerful carriers, able to gain ground after initial contact – whether Rogers bumping off the opposition or Harris-Jones fending and pushing off tacklers out wide – but Spain was better with the clean breaks. Its defense also attacked a sometimes flat attack and that resulted in disruption or interception. One big line-break put Spain in scoring position, and the Eagles were lucky to surrender three instead of five points. From an attacking scrum on the USA five meter, Spain moved the ball wide to an unguarded wing. Fortunately, the finishing pass was knocked on. But at 55 minutes, the hosts capitalized on the territory and Peña kicked a hard-angle penalty for the 13-9 scoreline.
40 minutos por delante.
— España Rugby (@ferugby) March 25, 2023
Ten minutes later, Spain took its first and only lead of the game. An interception out wide put Spain deep into the USA’s end. Meya Bizer cleared for some relief but the hosts restarted the ball quickly, and a chip ahead put the game on the Americans’ five meter. The Eagles got, and lost, the lineout, so Spain regrouped in the scrum. After a couple of phases at the line, No. 8 Carmen Castellucci dove over for the try and go-ahead points: 14-13 Spain.
There were 10 minutes to play and it almost got really dire for the Americans. Near Spain’s 22, outside center Alba Vinuesa picked off a soft pass in traffic and motored into open field. Harris-Jones closed the distance quickly and made the pursuit tackle, but Spain kept the ball alive. That’s when the referee blew up the game and returned play to Spain’s 22 (offsides penalty?), and a collective sigh wafted from across the Atlantic. And the USA absolutely made good on the reverse of fortune, driving a lineout nearly to the try line before peeling off the back and recycling to Rogers for the dive-over. Cantorna added the extras for the 20-14 lead.
There were about eight minutes to play and the USA managed it well, ending the game with a kick to touch. It’s a win. The Eagles have a week before their next test: RWC bronze medalists Canada on April 1. That game will also occur in Spain and kickoff is 11 a.m. ET. Visit the Pacific Four Series website for more info.
Your Saturday squad 💪
— USA Rugby (@USARugby) March 23, 2023