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Eagles Need to Make an Impression

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Eagles Need to Make an Impression

Seamus Kelly is in the middle, and the middle needs to stay strong. David Barpal photo.

USA 15s MNT Coach Mike Tolkin may have thrown fans a couple of curveballs in his selections, but we should have been sitting on the curve all along.

With 11 games on the USA schedule, including seven before they even get to the Rugby World Cup, Tolkin has some decisions to make. He has already identified the players he know who train well, are good teammates, and who have good pedigrees. Now it's time to see some of them play.

In addition, these self-same Eagles play another game on next Friday, and then once more the following Wednesday, and the Monday after that - he's got to save someone.

So Todd Clever sits this one out, as does Lou Stanfill, Olive Kilifi, Toby L'Estrange, and Brett Thompson. (Samu Manoa is still with Toulon, but will join the squad later.) Players who are still working to break their way in - Al McFarland, Troy Hall, and Niku Kruger will also have to wait for their shot. 

Even so, shots are being given. Greg Peterson gets to start against Samoa, and Cam Dolan is on the field after battling with injury. AJ MacGinty is getting his debut start, which is something we knew he would get. He partners with Shalom Suniula, which is a bigger curveball, because you'd think maybe his start would be with the front-line scrumhalf, Mike Petri, but the coach is looking for something here.

As with all of his picks, Tolkin is looking for something. He wants to see Danny Barrett's power running from No. 8. He wants to see John Quill play massive defense at #7. He wants to find out who can be a go-to lineout man among Dolan, Hayden Smith, and Peterson. He wants to see if Mate Moeakiola is fit enough to start. He wants to see if Thretton Palamo can use his undoubted athleticism and footwork to break the gainline repeatedly from inside center. 

From the bench, certainly Zack Test will get some time at wing, and Chris Baumann will get time at prop. But with all of that, this is still a team that's supposed to beat Samoa - a Samoa team with lots of lineup changes, too.

Tolkin told Goff Rugby Report that the preparation has gone well, with two-a-days yielding to a lighter schedule later in the week. The players are learning a few new wrinkles in the offense, and getting tighter in defense - which is where they need to be very strong.

Offensively, said Tolkin, they are keeping it simple for the moment, but we will see a few new approaches in how they plan to get points. That's all with the caveat that Samoa will be trying to stop all of that.

"We know the game will be very physical, but what's the nature of the physicality remains to be seen," said Tolkin. "And how we handle it will dictate a lot of things. We've got to be patient; we are still finding our rhythm."

Look for Chris Wyles to put his stamp on the leadership aspect of the game, but at the same time aggressiveness has to be part of the equation. Barrett and Quill are excellent choices to lead the physicality. But the players we are all looking at are scrumhalf to outside center. Suniula has to dance out of danger and make sure the game flows and the Samoan defense is asked to defned ... a lot. The center pairing of Palamo and Seamus Kelly have to catch the ball, work their system with a freight train coming down on them, and have to defend. A lot is on them.

And a lot is on MacGinty. He is the #1 choice for flyhalf, because he can organize an attack, knows how to read the game, and can kick. The kicking is a big deal. He has to make penalties pay, and he has to turn around the Samoan line. Will MacGinty feel comfortable enough to lead it all in his first game? We'll see.