Eagle Depth Challenged in Romania
Eagle Depth Challenged in Romania
USA Head Coach John Mitchell will has a slightly different pool of players to choose from for Saturday’s meeting with Romania, compared to last week’s game with the Maori All Blacks.
As outlined earlier in these pages, the fact that the Maori game fell outside the World Rugby Regulation 9 timeframe meant that USA Rugby couldn’t force pro clubs to give up players for that game. The Eagles got a couple of pros - notably Nick Civetta got his first run-out for the USA team after years of battling to get noticed - but not all of them.
Mitchell said after the loss to the Maori that he and his teams have some obstacles.
“We’ve got a slower development system because we’re only together for 14 or 16 weeks,” said Mitchell. “We’re not strength and conditioning and skill integration for a full 12 months like a New Zealand player. “With our scouting and identification and young guys coming through, I like to think that by 2017 we’ll be 45 deep. We’re 30 deep now. We’ve got a 3rd and 4th flyhalf coming in as well. A huge competition in the loose forwards. Our major focus will have to be in developing the front row and scrum clinics and tight five clinics.”
But, what would help is if they didn’t have to do this player-trading dance every year.
“Seven or eight test matches when we’re in front of a North American and South American audience looks after our world rankings and maybe we look at the fall where we look at more development and sub-unit coaching. And then we give the [professional] directors of rugby more consistency in terms of when we want our players and then they have more consistency on when they have their players.”
But this year is like 2014 in that several high-profile pros were not made available for the game in Chicago. Even some who were available came in late or were held out (Andrew Durutalo).
Danny Barrett (flanker), Pat Blair (hooker), Ben Cima (flyhalf), Ahmad Harajly (wing), Matt Jensen (lock), Siaosi Mahoni (lock), Folau Niua (center), Shalom Suniula (flyhalf).
Jensen has school he has to get back to. Some of the players just were replaced by others who are coming in.
Marcel Brache (wing), Cam Dolan (flanker, lock), Langilangi Haupeakui (flanker), Samu Manoa (lock,flanker) Thretton Palamo (center), Taku Ngwenya (wing) Blaine Scully (wing, fullback), Dino Waldren (prop).
These changes represent a huge shift for Mitchell and the Eagles. Being able to put Manoa and Dolan in the pack is always good news for a USA coach. Palamo brings size and elusiveness (and experience) into the midfield. Scully could help anchor a deep three that needs defensive stability, and Ngwenya has scored a try in both games he’s played against Romania.
Brache is a wild card and it will be interesting to see if he breaks into the lineup.
Overall, the Eagles lost 49 total caps, and gained 119.
So the total squad in Romania is:
Props: Chris Baumann, Titi Lamositele, Angus MacLellan, Alex Maughan, Dino Waldren
Hookers: James Hilterbrand, Joseph Taufete’e
Locks: Nate Brakeley, Nick Civetta, Samu Manoa
Flankers: Todd Clever, Cam Dolan, Andrew Durutalo, Langilangi Haupeakui, Tony Lamborn
Scrumhalves: Nate Augspurger, Stephen Tomasin
Flyhalves: JP Eloff, Will Holder
Centers: Bryce Campbell, Lemoto Filikitonga, Thretton Palamo
Wings: Marcel Brache, Martin Iosefo, Matai Leuta, Taku Ngwenya
Fullbacks: Madison Hughes, Blaine Scully, Mike Te’o
The front row is is quite inexperienced once you get past Baumann and Lamositele. Mitchell has said that’s an issue. Second row is another tough position, but while the Eagles have a few players, those few are very good. Both Brakeley and Civetta were useful in the lineout against the Maori, and will be important there again. Manoa is a game-changer, wherever he plays. With so few true locks on this squad, he will likely play second row.
The loose forward battle is also a good one. Lamborn put in a lot of work against the Maori. Todd Clever did not have his best game, but he does well in these tough, close, physical games like against Romania. If Andrew Durutalo is healthy, he should get a start.
Scrumhalf is a straight-up contest between two players at the moment and Augspurger is in the lead.
At flyhalf, Madison Hughes and Mike Te’o also provide backup there, but it should be Holder or Eloff. It’s worth noting that Hughes came on as a sub at fullback against the Maori and exploded for three impressive counter-attack runs. He’s a dangerous attacker in 7s, and showed he’s the same in 15s at the international level. You wonder if Hughes will get a few minutes as first receiver.
Expect someone like Iosefo to be given a look at center, also, but Bryce Campbell continues to play some good rugby. Palamo has to get a start here.
At wing and fullback, Te’o, like Holder, needs to show he can kick from the hand better than what we saw against the Maori. Scully is a terrific fullback but also a superb wing.
If we were to speculate ...
we might see a starting lineup of this: Baumann, Taufete’e, Lamositele, Manoa, Civetta or Brakeley, Clever, Durutalo, Dolan, Augspurger, Holder, Scully, Palamo, Iosefo, Ngwenya, Te’o or Hughes.
It’s a lineup that worries a little about Romania’s kicking, and puts Taufete’e in at hooker for his size and power in the scrum.
On the bench, look for at least five forwards. With Hughes and Te’o able to play almost any backline position, Mitchell can be flexible. He will have MacLellan on the bench for sure, and Maughan or Waldren also. Hilterbrand would also be on the bench, as would either Civetta or Brakeley. That list above has six extra forwards and we might see them all.
With either Te’o or Hughes on the bench, Mitchell could have Tomasin there also, or choose to bank another back, such as Brache (who could likely play center as well as wing) or Eloff (who can play 10, 13, or 15).