As the US coaching staff and some of the players begin to use the offseason to recharge the batteries after an exhausting buildup that culminated in the Tomahawks’ crowning glory, it’s an opportunity to break down what led to the national team’s success in the recent Rugby League World Cup Qualifiers. The rugby league world has heralded the USA’s successful bid to advance to the World Cup for the first time ever where it will compete in Group D alongside co-hosts Wales and Cook Islands.
It had been a long time coming, but the final game of the Atlantic Zone qualifying series against Jamaica was arguably the most important milestone yet to be achieved by the American National Rugby League. Prior to that, the biggest game in the USA’s history had been against Samoa in 2007 in Widnes, England, a match that had they won would have put them into the 2008 World Cup. As it turned out, however, Samoa prevailed and the US was sent back to the drawing board.
It was a long four years of strategizing, developing game plans and identifying potential talent - the end goal being to make it to the 2013 World Cup and it all came to a head in the Atlantic Zone qualifying series. It’s history now that the Tomahawks swept all before them in that series, but the fact that they did so in such an emphatic way warrants a closer look.
The USA dominated South Africa and Jamaica both offensively and defensively and outscored them by a combined total of 80-8. The US piled on no fewer than 15 tries, while conceding just two and a host of players got on the score sheet. Mark Cantoni (2), Sean Taylor (2), Curtis Cunz (2), Danny Howard (2), Mitchell Stevens (2), Sione Taufa, Stephen Howard, David Marando, David Myles and Mark Offerdahl all scored tries and Joseph Paulo was a real find with the boot. The man who locked the scrum slotted eight conversions and two penalty goals for a personal tally of 20 points.
Another positive statistic is that the USA trailed for just 10 minutes in 160 minutes of football. The only time the Tomahawks fell behind in the series was in the second quarter of Game 2 when Jamaica scored first, but it was a temporary state of affairs. One other stat of note is that the US played two halves of shutout football. They blanked South Africa 24-0 in the first half of Game 1 and then racked up 34 unanswered points in the second half of Game 2 against the Jamaicans
So what led to the American dominance? Execution. The Tomahawks regularly completed their sets, their defensive lines were virtually unbreakable and they made their tackles count. And it wasn’t a matter of employing complicated game plans. As head coach Matt Elliott told WeAreRugby, it was always going to be a matter of sticking to tactical basics. “We won’t be playing a complex style of rugby, that’s for sure,” he told us before Game 1. He said later, “The focus was to come up with a strategy that worked.”
And oh by the way, the US improved its all-time Test record en route to its RLWCQ triumph. The Tomahawks’ overall record now stands at 25-16, a win rate of 61%.
So for now at least, the AMNRL can take a breather before the process resumes and it starts to plan for England and Wales two years hence.