In the last 102 years of American international rugby, the United States has played 63 matches against Tier I opposition.
That measurement alone is not set in stone – we at RUGBYMag.com have included Samoa and Argentina in this list, even though one could argue Argentina wasn’t a Tier I nation through the entirety of the 1990s. We also have not included matches in the professional era against Tier I B teams, while we did include those in the amateur era.
In addition, we included the two Olympic games against France, based in part on the fact that while France wasn’t as strong as they would become, they still were competitive with the likes of Ireland, Scotland and England.
During that time, the USA has won exactly twice – 8-0 over France in 1920, and 17-3 over France in 1924, both Olympic Gold Medal games. Every other match against Tier I nations, including the 31 of the Professional Era (1996-onward) were losses, usually by an enormous margin.
Given that the USA played no test matches between 1924 and 1976, we are going to spend most of our time in this article referring to the 59 matches since 1976. Before then, the USA beat France twice, as we said, and lost to Australia 12-8 in 1912 and New Zealand 51-3 in 1913 (13 tries, counting three points each; in modern times that score would have been 77-3).
Since 1976, the USA is 0-59 against Tier I national teams, posting an average score of 40-12. Up until last Saturday, their closes game was against an Australian 15, who won 26-22 in Riverside, Calif. in 1993. Against a full international team the best score was a 16-11 loss to Argentina in 1994, or it might have been 28-22 against Argentina that same year, or a 10-3 loss to France in 1991. Close on their heels might be the 28-23 loss to Wales in 1996, the 27-20 loss to Samoa in 1999 or the 19-12 to Samoa in 200 … or the 25-18 loss to Ireland in 1994.
Several close games, to be sure, but in no game did the USA hold their opposition to no tries. France maybe have been held to ten points in 1991, but they scored two tries. Last Saturday, the USA lost to Ireland by a mere three points, and held a Tier I nation to no tries. In fact, Ireland wasn’t really close to scoring a try. One of their penalties was inside the 22, and that because the USA didn’t retreat ten meters quickly enough. Three of the penalty kicks from Ireland were more than 35 meters away.
In the last ten years, no Tier I nation has scored fewer than three tries against the USA, until last Saturday. For the first time since 1920, the USA held a Tier I nation to no tries.
In the last ten years, only one Tier I nation has beaten the USA by less than a try (Samoa in 2007), until last Saturday.
So the Eagles might kick themselves for losing, but this was still something of a milestone game. Maybe next time, the milestone will be victory.