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Eagle Changes for Patagonian Challenge

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Eagle Changes for Patagonian Challenge

USA Head Coach John Mitchell sets up the cones. David Barpal photo.

The USA Men's National 15s team still has some work to do if the Eagles want to win the Americas Rugby Championship.

While this past weekend's 51-34 defeat of Canada was encouraging in many ways (not least of which was that the USA team didn't implode after Canada started to come back), last year the Eagles were 2-0-1 going to South America, and suffered two somewhat ignominious defeats. So going to Chile and Argentina won't be all Malbec and grilled meats (more's the pity). It's worth remembering, also, that the Eagles have played Chile in Santiago once and ... lost. So check your Patagonian assumptions.

Regardless, Head Coach John Mitchell has to be feeling pretty good, having built from kind of eking out a victory over Uruguay to topping 50 against Brazil and Canada. 

"It was a good performance [against Canada]," said Mitchell after the Eagles slammed Canada 51-34. "I thought we had a good start and we had a good finish. Obviously we got loose defensively a couple of times, but we're sticking to our processes and the guys are enjoying our style of football."

That style is about attacking with aggression and moving the ball. Sometimes it's about using the big, strong guys to bash through; sometimes it's the shiftier guys sliding through, and often it's the quick passing - even from a standstill - to get it wide. All were used, along with the kick for space, against Canada, with varying degrees of success. Certainly when the USA players ran the phases, Canada kept committing penalties.

(Indeed, Canada captain Ray Barkwill said his team's discipline slipped at times, and the tackling was lacking. "We've got to put those guys on the ground," he growled.)

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"We've got a real positive intent in terms of going to where the space is," said Mitchell. "The opposition has got to be defensively organized."

Mitchell's talk usually moves quickly to talking about the World Cup Qualifiers. He is choosing his side for those games, and that all matters. But that doesn't mean that he's selecting down for the aRC. He's playing with the hand he's been dealt (meaning very few overseas pros). 

"At times we can rely too much on overseas talent," he said. "This group is pretty committed, and they've shown some resolve."

The USA team in South America will have a few changes. They make the trip without Nate Brakeley and Nick Civetta - who have both been excellent - flanker John Quill, and prop Dino Waldren. 

"It was at this time that we hit the slippery slope when we lost some veterans," said Mitchell. "We're thin in the backline at the moment. I am putting players in positions to hel the team."

That would be a reference to Nate Augspurger, normally a scrumhalf, playing wing, and playing it well. This time, they add two BYU players in center Calvin Whiting and lock Matt Jensen, who both suffered injuries going into their big chances earlier in the 2016-17 season. And former HS All American and USA U20 captain Hanco Germishuys, who can play hooker or flanker, and probably could line up at center and do fine, will also join the Eagles.

"We'll be thin in some areas, but we'll be taking a look at some of the youth as well," said Mitchell.