Goff Rugby Twitter     Goff Rugby Facebook

Column - Selects Being Seen Still Need to Win

National Teams

Column - Selects Being Seen Still Need to Win

USA Head Coach Mike Tolkin has two jobs in the Americas Rugby Championship, and while he will say that winning is job #1, it’s fair to argue that maybe it shouldn’t be.

At least, maybe it shouldn’t be right now. With the full Eagles team about to be under significant stress with many overseas pros not available for the entire month of November, Tolkin needs to see players more than he needs to win in the ARC.

So that’s part of the reason why he will start Zack Test and Andrew Durutalo in Sunday’s ARC match with Uruguay A. He needs to see these players in action. That’s also why he put Graham Harriman back in, and is starting Ben Pinkelman. There is no reason to have a guy in camp if he isn’t going to get some time on the field.

Having said that, the team he did pick is strong enough to beat Uruguay. It’s got an experienced and tough-minded front row. It’s got some really strong backs. The Selects should win. But … they can also lose, especially if they fumble the ball a lot, or get drawn into Uruguay’s game plan.

“Uruguay likes to kick for the corners and work the scrums and mauls in those corners,” Tolkin told Goff Rugby Report. “They expect to kick a lot of points. We can’t get drawn into that. Last year, we played very narrow, which is what they wanted.”

The USA beat Uruguay last year, but it was a close-run thing. This time, with a backing of Adam Siddall, Andrew Suniula, and Folau Niua at 10-12-13, they have experience players who are smart enough to use the weapons they have out wide. Tim Stanfill score two tries against Canada A, proving that he is an explosive threat - Tolkin liked how he just attacked turnover ball and backed himself. And Test has scored over 100 tries in international 7s competition, a and often with Folau Niua at his side, so he should see some ball.

“We want to open the game and find room to operate,” said Tolkin. “If we do that and bring the same level of intensity we had against Canada, we’ll be OK.”

The USA’s offense against Canada wasn’t great in terms of finishing, but the USA players did have scoring opportunities. A little more patience in the opposing 22 would have helped. But on the other side o the ball, their defense was really strong. They were patient, physical, and forced turnovers when they were on offer. Their set pieces were solid, too, and Siddall did the right thing in using his kicking game to lengthen the field for Canada.

All of that is on offer on Sunday.

Right now it is unlikely that any of the players in this upcoming game are playing for spots on the squad to face New Zealand November 1. When you look at the overseas pros set to come in - Clever, Manoa, LaValla, Wyles, Dolan, Thompson, Fry, Scully, Tuisamoa, Smith - and the players we know are highly liked - Lou Stanfill, Thiel, Kilifi, Barrett, Petri, both Suniula’s, Siddall, Kelly - there are only about seven to nine places left, and you could probably guess most of those.

But … once November 1 is done, most of that first list go back to their pro clubs, and Tolkin will have to bring a new group in to face Romania, Tonga, and Fiji. Everyone on the squad for tomorrow is playing to be in that group.

So they’re playing to win, and playing to be seen, and with rankings tests ahead, maybe being seen and putting together the right full Eagles player pool is job #1.

But …

These guys should win anyway.

Notes: A USA win and a loss or tie by Canada means the USA finishes 2nd in the ARC for the 2nd year in a row. If Canada beats Argentina, then it’s possible the USA might finish 3rd even if they win. Because Argentina got bonus points in both their victories, and Canada and the USA didn’t in either of their wins, Argentina has already clinched the 2014 ARC.