The red cards are a major part of the story of Italy beating the Eagles 30-10 Saturday at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, as prior to going down by two men, the USA trailed by just two scores.
Andrew Suniula’s card at the outset of the second half seemed to be out of frustration over a knock-on he committed just before the late hit that led to his send off. Was the penalty worthy of ejection?
“I thought the first one was a little harsh,” said Eagle coach Mike Tolkin of Suniula’s red card. “I thought the first one was certainly a late hit, but I didn’t think it merited a red card.”
Paul Emerick’s card was also for a late hit. It came in the 65th minute as the Eagles were playing scramble defense. Already down one man, the Eagles played a lot of defense in the second half, which, Tolkin thinks, may have led to Emerick leveling a player off the ball.
“I think the second one was just someone who had been chasing for a whole second half who may have got a little frustrated,” the coach said.
“We know the Italians are a physical team and we want to be physical as well, and we have aggressive players,” said captain Todd Clever of the cards. “We don’t mean to have red cards. We don’t mean to hurt anybody. Basically, I’m glad no one got seriously injured.”
Another issue in Saturday’s game was the Eagle’s inability to get quick ball out of the rucks, something they’d focused on since assembling prior to the Canada game.
“Italy did a very good job of slowing our ball down. They probably did their homework and saw that we like to play on our front foot and go quick,” said scrumhalf Mike Petri. “They forced us to play their game, forced us into a slow game, and it was obvious that that wasn’t what we wanted to do.”
When asked if the Italians held onto the Americans they tackled a little too long, Petri just shrugged and said yeah.
“That’s how the ref was calling it. We had a lot of penalties towards us, and we just couldn’t get our flow of the game,” Clever added.
“We tried to tell (the ref) we wanted to play rugby. That’s what we’re here for. We’re not here to have penalties, and it seems like they were slowing the ball down and we got penalized. We’re not going to win a game by kicking three points against a team like Italy.”
Even down to 13 men with the breakdown calls not falling in their favor, the Eagles continued to battle. They showcased good scramble defense and made the Italians work for the late tries that flattered the score line in their favor.
“I thought we defended amazingly well. We showed a lot of spirit in that game, and I think that’s what we can take away from it,” said fullback Chris Wyles.
“That’s just heart from us. We said before the game that we would never give up, and we went down to 13 men and didn’t give up, so we’re really proud of the guys in this changing room…Overall, I think we showed lots of spirit, the American way.”