Goff Rugby Twitter     Goff Rugby Facebook

Why This Eagles Lineup

irish rugby tours

Why This Eagles Lineup

Before we look at why Mike Tolkin picked the team he did, a little note about Tonga.
 
The Eagles are 1-5 against Tonga, and it’s kind of hard to see why. They have had a better team on paper in most of those games, but somehow didn’t get the victory. Most recently in 2013 in Carson, Calif., they just played badly. Almost everyone played badly. Saturday’s captain, Scott LaValla, said he was embarrassed by the performance.
 
The year before a somewhat depleted USA team had scoring chances and failed to convert them, and then made silly errors that gifted the game to Tonga (actually, that was the deal in 2013 too).
 
In 2011, the Eagles dominated possession, but couldn’t make it pay off. Again, little breakdowns hurt them. 
 
This time around, it’s not the front-line USA team, but that may not matter. Here’s why Tolkin picked the team he did, and what those guys can bring to the game:
 
Front row of Nick Wallace, Phil Thiel, and Mate Moeakiola. These guys are there in part because they’re all that’s left. However, they will bring physicality to the fringe defense and should be able to make the scrum work against the Sea Eagles.
 
Second row of John Cullen and Greg Peterson. Tolkin wants to see these guys in action. At some point, you have to just get them on the field for 50-70 minutes and let them make an impact. Both are very tall, strong, and athletic. Peterson is very experienced as a professional rugby player and could be a game-changer as a result. Cullen is a little like Danny Barrett, in that he can create attacking opportunities out of nothing.
 
Back row of Scott LaValla, John Quill, and Matt Trouville. LaValla is a strong leader, usually runs the USA lineout, and will definitely want to put aside the memories of that 2013 game. Quill was outstanding against Romania. He’s gritty, he roams the field making tackles, and he works the turnovers. Trouville did well in rescuing ball at the back of the scrum. He has a good eye for the field, and we might see him pick from a go-forward scrum more often in this game. 
 
Halfbacks of Mike Petri and Shalom Suniula. Tolkin has no choice. Adam Siddall is dealing with a concussion issue. But … Suniula brings a special dynamic to the game. He has a wonderful sidestep and is just a little flashier than Siddall. In this game, with Tonga loving to commit to the tackle, if Suniula can make them miss, that’s good for the USA.
 
Centers Andrew Suniula and Seamus Kelly. I think Tolkin is still looking for the best from these two. Suniula played well, although he goes into contact too high. Kelly had moments, but he’s generally had a quiet couple of recent games - perhaps this is the time for them to a) break through the line more frequently and b) look like they are playing more as a pair.
 
Wings/Fullback Tim Stanfill, Tim Maupin, and Folau Niua. Well, who else will he play? Stanfill has started three games in some form of international rugby this fall and scored five tries, and his kick chad and defense were strong against Romania. Niua scored a try, helped set up another, and did pretty well covering kicks against Romania. It’s a shame Taku Ngwenya doesn’t get another shot (didn’t we have this problem before getting him from Europe into the UK?), but Tim Maupin deserves a serious look. 
 
These guys will be under some pressure, as Tonga runs hard out wide and usually field big, long-legged wings. Fullback Vunga Lilo scored last week against Georgia, and both Tongan wings are tall, powerful runners who love to hit … hard. This is where Quill and Kelly need to help out on defense.
 
The Bench
Coolican, MacLellan, and Tarr are no-brainers here because they are all Tolkin has up front. Tai Tuisamoa, Kyle Sumsion, and Todd Clever give the Eagles lots of options, and you should expect to see all of them play. Tonga was trailing 9-6 against Georgia with 20 minutes to go, and scored three tries in the final quarter to win 23-9. The Eagles will know that.
 
The USA has only two backs on the bench, and they aren’t exactly multi-positional players. Ronnie McLean is a center, born in the USA and playing for Ealing (he also has a degree in mechanical engineering). He’s not a wing or a flyhalf, he’s a center. Thretton Palamo played flyhalf for Utah, but that’s Utah. He’s a center. Both of these guys deserve to get some time and be seen at this level. Palamo has the ability to run over or around players, and it would be nice to see him at full throttle again.
 
Who isn’t there: Lou Stanfill just needs to be managed. Tolkin feels he gets the best out of some players if they are not used for 80 minutes every week. But other absences are less about the coach’s decision: Kilifi, injured, Fry, unavailable pro, Smith, unavailable pro, Manoa, unavailable pro, Barrett, injured, Thompson, injured, Siddall, injured, Ngwenya, passport issues, Scully, unavailable pro, Wyles, unavailable pro, Dolan, injured and would be unavailable anyway, Hall, stand-down period. 
 
So this is a mix of players Tolkin would like to see play a bit more, and players he has to put out there because of injuries and unavailabilities (not to denigrate those players, but it’s true, they might be great, but the choices are dwindling), and players who might create the best matchups.
 
If things go right, this group dominates lineouts and scrums, shakes things up with a little unpredictability out wide, keeps the defensive line taut and aggressive, and somehow makes sure the wings don’t get torched too much.
 
Oh, and with all of that, they have to finish. Points in the 22 boys.
 
Notes: Just because we think the Eagles should beat doesn’t mean it should be easy. Tonga has some amazing players. Their captain, Nili Latu, is a warrior. Their locks are 6-5 and 6-8 and are both seasoned pros. Their inside center weighs 242 lbs. Prop Tevita Mailau  is a monster. Their team is quite older than the USA, with several players well into their 30s, with years of experience. Flyhald Kut Morath averages 12 points a game with his boot. And don’t forget, nine of these players were on the squad that beat France in the 2011 Rugby World Cup.