The USA Women Junior All Americans (WJAAs) are preparing for their third match at the U20 Nations Cup, and they have the chance to do something the program’s never done before: Beat England U20s. The hosts have surprised the field, going 0-2 thus far, and opening up the opportunity for a new Nations Cup champion.
“If I was not watching the matches, if I was just seeing scores, I think I would be surprised,” WJAA coach Danielle Miller said of England’s performance. “But all of the teams that are here are very strong, and I can see, watching the matches, that everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. Teams have been able to find England’s weaknesses, and England’s had a hard time adjusting to some of those attacks.”
But Miller and her team are anything but underestimating tomorrow’s opponent.
“They’re still a strong team; don’t get me wrong,” Miller said. “England is traditionally a strong squad. We think there are areas where we can exploit England, and I’m sure they’re thinking the same about us.”
But not as many as there were during the USA’s first game against Canada. Miller took on much of the blame for the 25-15 loss.
“It’s my job to make sure they’re prepared for that first test match, and we weren’t successful,” Miller said. “It’s not a reflection of the team at all. It comes back to my shoulders in the preparation.
“A lot of it just came down to the communication and learning new patterns,” Miller continued. “We’ve never played together as a whole new team. We definitely had a few breakdowns in some skill sets, cleaned it up a little with our breakdown, but getting the team together and playing was what we needed to do.”
The team was eager to play again and were well prepared for South Africa. Again, the USA forwards set the platform for success.
“Our forwards are strong and dominant,” Miller said. “I think they’re probably the strongest pack here, specifically in the scrums. They were just as dominant in the South Africa match as they were in the Canada match, just in different ways.
“South Africa is less structured, so it was a different type of domination,” Miller elaborated. “In the Canadian match, we were able to win a lot of their ball off the head. We were able to push them back and maintain possession. In the South Africa match, we were able to dominate by disrupting their possession, and even if they maintained it, they were pushed back and had a difficult time reacting after set pieces.”
Sometimes that lack of structure has benefited South Africa. They play a scrappy, fiery game that can shake up an undisciplined team. Early on, the referee punished South Africa for repeated infringements in the breakdown, sending a player off within the first 10 minutes of play, but the USA kept their composure.
“They’re spirited in that they’re a lively group on and off the field,” Miller detailed what it’s like playing South Africa. “They are a fantastic team in that they do a lot of cheering, singing, chanting from the sidelines during the games, practices and in the cafeteria.
“The [USA] girls did a fantastic job of maintaining their structure, their composure, and they played the game plan that was set up for them,” Miller said. “They never fell into any other frenzy. They’re very disciplined. They do a very good job of regaining their composure when they need to.”
The USA enjoyed ample possession and did what Canada had done to them – took advantage of the opportunities given to them. As a result, six players from all over the field scored tries, and the USA earned a bonus point in the 44-5 victory.
Miller indicated that there wasn’t this noticeable change in team morale after the win, perhaps because, “The girls had it in them all along,” according to Miller, and were just realizing their potential. Should the USA keep to this trajectory of improvement, which is now focusing on stronger cohesion and team work, they’ll sail over England and into the final.
“We really want to have another shot at Canada in the championship match,” Miller confessed. “We feel we can perform a lot better than we did in that match.”
USA plays England at 2pm ET. There are no Webcasts for the games; stay tuned for coach and/or player feedback.