USA kick off Autumn Internationals with Russian win

America’s Eagles kicked off the Autumn Internationals with a six try 40-26 hammering of Russia at Eirias Park in Conwy County in Wales on Friday.

The Eagles scored 26 unanswered points as they made a strong start to the team’s November Tour. Four Eagles (John Quill, Toby L’Estrange, Cornelius Dirksen, and Zach Fenoglio) earned their first international caps against Russia, a promising sign for the future of head coach Mike Tolkin’s team.

Tolkin after the game praised his side’s defense and set piece. The scrum has been an issue for the Eagles in recent years, but it was very proficient against a big Russian pack on Friday.

Experience in the front rowers Shawn Pittman, Chris Biller, and Eric Fry made a big difference and perhaps surprised the Russians who got the better of the USA pack in their Rugby World Cup matchup last year. It comes down to excellent preparation, said Tolkin.

“All of our coaches did a great job preparing their respective units,” Tolkin said of his staff’s effort.

There were improvements across the board from the June tests, but the scrum and the kicking game were outstanding against Russia. A precise and effective kicking battle and the speed and intensity of the USA forwards knocked the Russians out of rhythm early.

The work of loose forwards Scott LaValla, debutant John Quill, and captain Todd Clever set a physical tone that Russia struggled to keep up with. Clever said after the game that he was proud of the effort from the forwards and praised the peppy backline including a two-try performance by Robbie Shaw.

Five of the six USA tries were converted by Saracens fullback Chris Wyles, effectively answering any questions about who would take kicking duties for the Eagles. Wyles was also lethal kicking out of hand.

To open the scoring Eric Fry rumbled over in the 6th minute to give the USA the lead that his side would not relinquish, but the Eagles only held a 7-6 lead after 17 minutes due to two Russian penalties.

The tipping point in the match came from a turnover created by the Eagle forwards that led to a lineout. A crisp throw from Chris Biller enabled the backs to move it to debutant Toby L’Estrange.

A dummy to Andrew Suniula forced the Russian defense to bite, and L’Estrange cruised through for the score. Tolkin was happy with the rookie flyhalf’s debut.

“Toby was our playmaker at 10. He was sharp in his passing and was good with his tactical kicking as well. He’s got a lot of talent outside of him and he did well to get the ball out there,” Tolkin said.

After the L’Estrange try, a scary moment came for the Eagles and rugby fans everywhere when USA captain Todd Clever went down after taking a Russian head to his cheek. After some attention from the trainers, Clever returned to the game and immediately rallied his troops, barking at the forwards not five seconds after the trainers left him. Big lock forward Brian Doyle chimed in next, rumbling over for a five-pointer after an excellent maul by his pack.

Three tries to zero after 40 minutes was a good way to go into the locker room at halftime. Uneasy moments early in the second half subsided for the USA as Wyles capitalized on a disorganized Russian defense, collecting a well-timed pass from Shaw to score untouched.

Shaw scored the balance of the tries, both from short range and both well deserved. Shaw marshaled the troops into the Russian 22 and stretched the defense to the left side of the field.

Russia was slow to organize its defense so Shaw backed himself to score and darted through to the try line. Eight minutes later the Eagles were once again in the Russian half and earned an advantage call.

Luke Hume, the scrappy winger, had a shot himself through traffic in midfield. He put in the biggest fend of the game, leveling his would-be defender and snaking through for a few meters. Shaw ran in support and co

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