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Eagles Face Combination of Experience, Fire in French Barbarians

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Eagles Face Combination of Experience, Fire in French Barbarians

Cam Dolan warms up for the USA at Twickenham. Ian Muir photo.

As the USA men's 15s team looks ahead to Friday's intriguing meeting with the French Barbarians, we all know that the main job is the World CUp qualifier games with Chile right after.

So this game is a warmup, which is kind of a weird word to use for a game against a team of seasoned veterans sprinkled with some young players itching to prove they belong on the French national team. 

The 23 players listed for the USA match include six players capped by France, and one more capped 10 times by Portugal (that'd be scrumhalf Samuel Marqués). Some notice has been paid to the presence of well-known France veterans Louis Picamole (flanker) and François Trinh-Duc (flyhalf), but they are really not the story. Those two, along with Marqués might best serve as lock-room glue. The bones of the team come from the 17 uncapped players on the squad. Of those seven are over 30. They are longtime professionals who know their business and understand how to play professional rugby.

That is an excellent test for the USA team. Prop Arthur Joly, for example, is 34, and has played 124 Top 14 and European Cup games, as well as 67 games in Pro D2 (his club, Agen, was bouncing between the two during his five years there). He's a powerful tighthead with enormous experience and knowledge.

Romain Sazy is 35 years old, 6-6, and has played 210 times for La Rochelle in with Top 14 and European Cup competitions (plus 31 games in Pro D2). Again, this is a player who knows how to win rugby games, play defense, be difficult, and secure possession.

Center Pierre Aguillon has logged over 10,000 minutes playing in the Top 14 and European Cup playing for La Rochelle, Castres, and Oyonnax. There's very little in rugby he hasn't seen before.

The other 10 players on the French Barbarians squad are youngsters trying to get a look. They range from flyhalf Louis Foursans-Bourdette, now with Montpellier and who played for the France U20 team that finished 4-1 in the U20 Six Nations, to 25-year-old lock Alexandre Roumat, who is the son of former France star Olivier Roumat—Alexandre looks just like his dad and hopes to be capped just like him, too.

It's a veteran backline, but out on the wing they've got Adrien Lapègue, 23, who is only just now getting Top 14 time at Stade Francais, and is clearly on audition here. 

So what you have is a team is seasoned veterans who are enjoying a trip to the USA, a bit of extra money, and a chance to show the Eagles what they've learned over 10 or so years of professional rugby, a team of youngsters who have talent and potential, but need to show the French setup they have what it takes, and a few previously-capped players who keep it all together.

It's an imposing group.

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So the test for the USA to match up. Their forwards will need to be hard, smart, and not get too frantic. They will need to leverage their improvements in the scrum and their power in the maul and lineout. But they can't afford to be sloppy with the ball, either in securing or clearing out rucks or, as has been the USA's habit, losing the ball in contact.

When you're 35 and playing Top 14 rugby, yes you might be athletic, but you're there because you recognize opportunities and patterns and your brain is finely attuned to how the game moves. So turnovers and mistakes by the USA team will be punished severely.

The French Barbarians backline is experienced for sure, and maybe there's an opportunity there if the Eagles are daring, aggressive, and fast. The word fast, of course, doesn't just meaning running at speed, but moving the ball at speed, making decisions quickly, and accelerating onto the ball.

Mistakes will be punished here, too. Drop a ball and while someone like Foursans-Bourdette will grab that ball and take off, while Trinh-Duc will likely just pass the ball quickly to someone else. Either way, they'll respond instantly.

The USA deep three will certainly be very busy. The French, and certainly some of the more veteran backs, will happily use the kicking game to burn the Eagles. The USA team cannot afford to leave the space behind their defensive line unguarded.

Looking Ahead

Chile got their warmup game this past weekend, losing 45-5. The first half for the Condors was not a good half. They looked slow and, dare we say, hesitant on defense, giving the Scots plenty of time to get up a head of steam. Their maul defense was poor. But they picked it up a bit in the second half, especially on defense. it was 28-0 at halftime and the second half was 17-5, and perhaps a little flattering to Scotland A as it was 5-5 until the final two minutes. 

So not a great showing from Chile but they could probably look at minutes 40 to 78 and hang their hat on that. The Eagles, for their part, have shown an ability to play open rugby and score tries. When they get caught up in a stop-start game that relies on penalties and kicks to touch they don't seem to do as well. Chile will likely want the latter type of game to frustrate the Eagles.

USA Men's Squad Named for This Summer

French Barbarians Roster

Front Row:
Nicolas Corato (Pau)
Arthur Joly (Perpignan)
Clément Maynadier (Bordeaux)
Adrien Pélissié (Clermont)
Jefferson Poirot (Bordeaux)
Sébastien Taofifenua (Lyon)

Lock
Alexandre Roumat (Bordeaux)
Romain Sazy (La Rochelle)

Back Row
Esteban Abadie (Brive)
Anthime Hemery (Racing 92)
Louis Picamoles (Bordeaux)
William Wavrin (Mont de Marsan)

Scrumhalf
Thomas Berjon (La Rochelle)
Samuel Marques (Carcassonne)

Interior Backs
Pierre Aguillon (Castres)
Jean-Baptiste Dubié (Bordeaux)
Louis Foursans (Montpellier)
François Trinh-Duc (Bordeaux)
Raphaël Lagarde (Agen)

Outside Backs
Mathieu Acebes (Perpignan)
Nans Ducuing (Bordeaux)
Adrien Lapègue (Stade Français)