‘It is just blank expressions’ – AJ MacGinty following the USA’s World Cup qualification loss to Chile

AJ MacGinty and his teammates won the first leg 22-21 last weekend in Santiago, Chile
©Travis Prior

These past three Saturday’s have been absolute rugby feasts. From the start of the day to late night, there have been games bouncing off satellites directly to televisions.

As much as Ireland’s series win over the All Blacks in New Zealand, England’s comeback series victory against Australia and the Springboks reminding everyone they are the best in the world by overcoming Wales, Rugby World Cup qualifiers have been raging on in the background.

Just over a week ago, Namibia won the Rugby Africa Cup in France, beating Kenya 36-0 in the final as former Gloucester Rugby back-row Wian Conradie scored a hat-trick. As a result, just three spaces were left to be taken up. But now there are two.

Chile took the second to last slot in the tournament in beating Gary Gold’s USA, the 52-51 aggregate win taking Los Condores to the tournament for the first time in their history, meaning that the Eagles will take a spot in the repechage tournament that will take place in Dubai this November.

By no means is Chile’s win a huge shock, with Pablo Lemoine’s side already having prevented Canada from qualifying for the first time in the tournament’s history, their place in Pool D alongside England, Japan, Argentina and Samoa hugely warranted.

Scoring a try, kicking three conversions and a penalty in the USA’s 31-29 loss at Infinity Park in Glendale, Colorado, was incoming Bristol Bears fly-half, AJ MacGinty. At 32, MacGinty captains the USA when available, and sat before media with less than an hour after the final whistle, the emotions of such a chastening defeat still plastered across his face.

“It is sore, emotionally hurt,” MacGinty, when asked about his feelings, said. “It was a tough old game. Towards the end we just probably made too many errors, which was the disappointing thing, and we shot ourselves in the foot.

“All credit to Chile, but of course we are going to be disappointed with how the game went and being in command, feeling like you are in full control and then letting it slip. It is like a dog fight. We will have a few words when we get back to the hotel and then move from there.”

Having led 19-0 with half an hour played, it was following a yellow card to former Newcastle lock, Nick Civetta, that Chile got into the game. At the break, the score read 19-14.

It was in that second half that Chile really pushed o, the scoreline getting every closer thanks to converted tries from Santiago Videla and Matias Dittus, the USA’s only efforts coming thanks to a Joe Taufete’e score and a penalty struck by MacGinty.

In the end it was a Videla penalty that was all the difference, Chile’s two point winning margin wiping out the USA’s 22-21 win in Santiago the weekend before.

Refereed by Englishman Luke Pearce, there was one cause for debate in the closing stages after the USA had a penalty reversed against them with Chance Wenglewski pinged for a neck roll on Martin Sigren, who just moments before had his hands on the ball to effect a turnover before the whistle was blown as his teammate, Javier Carrasco, rolled away too slowly.

Discipline was very much where the game was won and lost, with the USA somewhat impetuous at times and crossing that line too often in the view of the officials.

AJ MacGinty captained the USA to their 52-51 aggregate loss to Chile
©Travis Prior

Gold and his staff are into a deep dive into what exactly went wrong these past couple of weeks, while his squad will go back to their clubs in Europe or, in the case of Major League Rugby players, home until they are recalled for the Repechage.

Knowing they will be playing the aforementioned Kenya, as well as Portugal and the loser of Tonga vs Hong Kong, who play in the Asia/Pacific playoff next Saturday in Australia.

“This is our first experience of this; not going [Americas] 1 or qualifying as Americas 2 and going to the Repechage,” MacGinty said. “So, the dynamics of that, how it works and who you play, we will find that out in November.

“It is obviously tough because we separate straight away and everyone goes their separate ways and some guys, their rugby is finished, because they are not going back to MLR teams because their season is over.

“It is kind of like a rest period for them, but it is crucial that we stay fit, and we keep ourselves in good condition to be ready to go for the back door into the World Cup.

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“I think in the grand scheme of things, we gave it everything. Of course, it is going to be hard for this to settle in. It is just blank expressions in the changing room, and everyone is hurting from it. I wasn’t there, but I know the lads felt that when it happened in Uruguay, and it has been a very good five weeks together.

“All roads were leading to good things, but the result didn’t go our way. That is sport and you have got to put it behind you and move on.”

In preparation for the Eagles’ final push, MacGinty will be setting up shop in Bristol. Reunited with Pat Lam after his time with Sale Sharks, one of the most effective fly-halves in the Gallagher Premiership will be competing with Callum Sheedy for the starting playmaker spot, although each will be on international duty come the Autumn.

Even so, the former Connacht man will have some thoughts with the USA and how he and his teammates are going to take a place in Pool C with Wales, Australia, Fiji and Georgia. There’s plenty of motivation there, MacGinty knowing he and his international teammates have a close bond, the need being to know exactly what they have to do as 2022 draws to a close.

“One thing with this group, as rare as you might see each other, it is quite a close-knit group,” MacGinty said. “We will definitely keep in contact.

“The takeaway is how did we let that slip and what are the improvements and where do we go from here. We have got to have a good look at ourselves, and as a team, and then move on from there.

“The difficulty is, we are not together, but getting together as much as we can to get some clarity as to where we felt it went wrong for us.”