USA v Romania: Five things we learnt including AJ MacGinty ‘uncharacteristic’ outing as Nick Easter’s influence shines through

Joe Harvey
USA fly-half AJ MacGinty and coach Nick Easter.

Five things we learnt following the USA Eagles' 22-20 loss to Romania.

The USA Eagles returned to action in a 22-20 loss at the hands of Romania in Chicago.

A first Test match on home soil since 2022, when the Eagles failed to secure qualification for the 2023 Rugby World Cup, it was not a perfect return to action in front of home fans.

After an engaging 80 minutes, here are five things we learnt about the USA Eagles.

Bright first half on return to US soil

Scott Lawrence and his staff will undoubtedly be most pleased with the opening 40 minutes at SeatGeek Stadium.

Buoyed by a strong home crowd in the Midwest, the Eagles opened the match with a lively attacking display in which Jamason Fa’anana-Schultz crashed over the whitewash with five minutes played.

AJ MacGinty then added the conversion and a penalty in a competitive first half in which the sides went into the sheds 10-all.

With Thomas Tu’avao in the sin bin the Eagles fronted up brilliantly to not concede a point during that period.

Not conceding a point during that 10-minute spell, the defence coached by ex-England back-rower Nick Easter were consistent in their practice, which is a positive to build on moving forward.

Errors prove costly

It was the tale of the Test that the Eagles looked off the pace in the defeat.

Whether it was handling errors or MacGinty watching as two penalties drifted wide of the uprights, there was much for the USA to work on ahead of their game with Scotland this week.

Giving away six penalties over the course of the match, the hosts were made to pay as Alin Conache and Daniel Plai slotted all but one of those kicks.

A lack of game awareness could no more be seen than in the game’s very last play. With the clock ticking into the red and Romania reduced to 13 players, Christian Dyer opted to kick the ball forward on his own halfway line.

A bobbling kick made in hope more than expectation, white jerseys pounced onto the ball and finished the match. The move was by no means a hammer blow.

By that stage the Oaks had all but won the contest, however it was a snap decision which symbolised the 80 minutes which had preceded it.

July internationals: All fixtures, venues and match officials for another blockbuster week of rugby

A return for MacGinty brings mixed feelings

Friday night’s game was a first for Bristol Bears’ MacGinty since the Final Qualification Tournament in 2022. In that time the Eagles have appointed a new head coach, seen a flurry of international debuts and two European tours.

Coming back into the squad for this summer’s Test series, with Greg Peterson appointed captain, the fly-half made a first appearance for his country for 19 months. Pat Lam’s go-to man in the Gallagher Premiership, the playmaker endured a contrasting 80 minutes for his adopted country.

Overall, the side looked more comfortable with the 34-year-old at the heart of things. Particularly in their opening gambit, MacGinty was at the heart of the high tempo that gave the hosts an early lead in Chicago.

Even scoring a try, MacGinty would fall victim to some of the mistakes that ran rife through the squad.

Uncharacteristically missing two penalties, which could have been the difference between victory and defeat, it was not a perfect return.

Another week with the squad will no doubt lead to more sharpness for the playmaker, who will be hoping to repeat his 2018 exploits in the Eagles’ 30-29 win over Scotland and re-establish himself in the fly-half jersey in the process.

Moonshot 2031

In the run-up to this summer’s opening Test, head coach and general manager Lawrence released his mission statement for the USA Men’s Eagles.

Since the former Rugby ATL and Life University boss took the job, players have spoken openly about their space race theming.

With the aim of winning a Rugby World Cup quarter-final in 2031, the 48-year-old has written down his team’s objectives and published them online for everyone to pour over.

Moonshot 2031 is a mapped-out synopsis of what he is hoping to achieve in the years to come.

Eagles Missions go down to the U18 level, with this 2024 to 2027 period described as Project Gemini.

Relating to the second human spaceflight that NASA conducted, where their primary objective was to develop the space travel techniques that would be implemented when Apollo 11 landed on the moon in July 1969.

Each match is seen as a mission and will culminate between 2028 and 2031 with Project Apollo.

By that stage, those U20s and U18s squads will be helping form the senior Eagles at a home World Cup and their moon landing being a last-eight victory on home soil.

Packed with plenty of additional information that offers a complete overview of what the side are hoping to achieve, it is a fascinating way to spend an hour; and learn the team’s DNA and what to expect in the years to come.

Irimescu enjoys home return

New York born and raised Rob Irimescu was not given a shot by the country of his birth.

A collegiate All-American while at Penn State, the 28-year-old flirted with the selection for the USA while being a standout player with Rugby New York and Old Glory DC.

Instead, Irimescu decided to uproot his life and move to the country of his parents’ birth, Romania.

Signing with Stiinta Baia Mare to help aid his Test match ambitions, the hooker duly made his debut and was selected for last year’s Rugby World Cup in France.

Returning home to play rugby for the first time since his decision, Irimescu enjoyed a 30-minute outing on the Fourth of July weekend.
Contributing to his nation’s 22-20 win it was a perfect return to the country of his birth.

READ MORE: International Team of the Week: Siya Kolisi banishes ‘grossly exaggerated’ form claims, Ireland star’s ‘unheard’ feat