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Can the Eagles Win This Time?

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Can the Eagles Win This Time?

The last two years the USA Men's National Team has faced a top international opponent at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, only to come away with a tough to swallow loss.

In 2012, the Eagles were right there with Italy before two very dubious red cards destroyed their hopes. A year later, Ireland came away 15-12 winners in a game where the USA was just a little unlucky. Both games set USA Rugby attendance records.

So what's in store this weekend in Houston? It's likely the crowd won't be quite as large as the one that saw Ireland win a year ago, but it will still be big. And the prospects for winning? They aren't bad at all.

"The first year at Houston I don't think we had the guns but we were in a tight game but the red card issue sealed the deal," said USA Head Coach Mike Tolkin. "Last year we had the guns, we made the run for it. But it was still a strong Ireland side. We've got to remember that these teams, even if they don't have all of their front-line players, are still Six Nations teams, still in the Top 10 in the world. Just because we think they're in a position to be taken down doesn't mean it's going to happen.

"On the other hand, if we play hard and chippy, we have a chance. Our guys will be confident and will play hard."

Tolkin had some tough work to do in picking this team. He has worked to develop depth over the last few years, and has it. Samu Manoa stays home with his new son (Samuela Jr.), and they've got Hayden Smith to play lock. Todd Clever, Scott LaValla, Cam Dolan, Danny Barrett, and Kyle Sumsion provide five excellent back-rowers. All through the team (with one or two exceptions), the team has depth.

"We had a good first segment with the precamp, some new guys, some young guys," said Tolkin. "We got a game under our belts and some playing time in, got on the same page, got rid of any confusion or lack of precision; we were able to address stuff. With that approach we have some good depth. We have some good young back-rowers with Danny Barrett and Kyle Sumsion, so that was a battle."

(Barrett won this round.)

"We have a good battle with the centers, and  on the back three we have good players, as well, so we're making progress."

The one position where depth is lacking is flyhalf, where Shalom Suniula gets the start with Toby L'Estrange and Adam Siddall both injured. Folau Niua and Chris Wyles both took reps at the position, but Suniula took charge of the #10 jersey.

"Shalom's got to run the show and he's taken that responsiblity," said Tolkin. "He wants to do well at it. I have faith in Shalom. He's smooth and confident, and hes worked hard."

Meanwhile, up front, Tolkin has four props on the squad, and remembers not too long ago when he was running two props out there for 80 minutes.

They will need everyone against Scotland, a tough, bloody-minded team that does not want to be the first Tier I country to lose to the Eagles. In recent years the USA has been getting into position to score against these teams, but haven't converted enough. They need to get tries this weekend.

"It's an area where against Uruguay we had opportunities to score, but didn't; it was a decision-making thing," said Tolkin. "We finally got it right. Against the better teams, when you get in those areas, you have to come out with points. We will have to give them some different looks. Running down your throat isn't an approach that will work. We tend to get a little white line fever and think 'we're so close, we have to do it now.' But we need to be patient. Might be keeping it and forcing them into a penalty, or waiting for the right holes to appear, or a drop kick."