Countdown to kick off: Eagles vs. All Blacks

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AUCKLAND, NZ/PHILADELPHIA, PA – Just a few more days before the biggest event in US rugby kicks off on the historic turf of Soldier Field. It’s so big Rugby Wrap Up has doubled down on coverage from both sides of the ball: resident New Zealander and Super Rugby Superman Jamie Wall will be giving his thoughts on the All Blacks while rabble-rousing Philly native and US rugby expert Jake Frechette may yet ruffle a few more feathers with his take on the Eagles. Not just content with multiplying the columnists, they’ll be hitting you with this one now and a final preview later in the week.

Historical notes:

The 1913 All Blacks: big bullies

The 1913 All Blacks: big bullies

Despite the talk about the ‘historical’ nature of this match, this not the first time they’ve met, actually it’s not even the first test between the All Blacks and Eagles on US soil. The two sides first met way back in 1913, with the All Blacks winning by a convincing scoreline of 51-3. To say the All Blacks 16-match tour of the western US and British Columbia was successful is a serious understatement, they won every game and scored 645 points, conceding only 6. Ironically, given the undeniable promotional status of this weekend’s test, this 1913 All Blacks are widely credited with not only destroying US rugby on the field, but off it as well. So dispirited were the collegiate teams from the likes of University of California, Southern California and Stanford, that they abandoned their rugby programs shortly after to focus on football (to be fair, that actually worked out pretty well for all of them).

The next time the two sides met was in 1980 in San Diego, where the All Blacks again put up a half-century, winning 53-6 (however, for some reason this match was not granted test-match status, I have no idea why). This was en route to the All Blacks spoiling the Welsh RFU’s centenary celebrations with a thumping win at Cardiff Arms Park later in the tour.

The Eagles had to wait until the second World Cup in 1991 to get another crack at the All Blacks, this time they went down 46-6. Given that the All Blacks were the world champs at the time (albeit not for much longer), this was a very spirited performance by a team many had picked to lose by 100. If 2014’s Eagles needed some inspiration, they could do a lot worse than to look to that effort for inspiration.

Jake’s US Eagles preview:

In the last twelve months, the Eagles have played 8 matches (if you count the Eagles Select XV, add three more matches.)  They went 4-3-1 (6-4-1 counting the Select XV).

 

Nov. 9, 2013

Maori All Blacks

L: 19-29

Nov. 16, 2013

Georgia

W: 25-23

Nov. 23, 2013

Russia

W: 28-7

March 22, 2014

Uruguay

T: 27-27

March 29, 2014

Uruguay

W: 32-13

June 7, 2014

Scotland

L: 6-24

June 14, 2014

Japan

L: 29-37

June 21, 2014

Canada

W: 38-35

Looking at these games, the Eagles have done what they needed to do.  The tie against Uruguay was not a good game, but they followed it up well enough and qualified for the World Cup.  They played well against Japan, and they beat rivals Canada. The full squad is:

Forwards: Tom Coolican, Phil Thiel, Eric Fry, Olive Kilifi, Mate Moeakiola, Benjamin Tarr, Nick Wallace, Hayden Smith, Tai Tuisamoa, Danny Barrett, Todd Clever, Cameron Dolan, Scott Lavalla, Samu Manoa, Louis Stanfill

Backs: Troy Hall, Seamus Kelly, Folau Niua, Mike Petri, Blaine Scully, Adam Siddall, Tim Stanfill, Andrew Suniula, Shalom Suniula, Brett Thompson, Chris Wyles

Samu Manoa

Samu Manoa

It is likely that the front row will be Kilifi, Thiel and Wallace.  They played together at the Americas Rugby Championship and did an OK job. Wallace also has a bit of swagger, and the Americans will need lots of that. Eric Fry is playing at Newcastle in the Aviva Premiership, but he hasn’t seen much game time. In the Eagles jersey, he has struggled mightily at scrum time. Moeakiola has been away from the US set up for a while, but he will be a comfortable veteran on the bench.

There are only two players who only play in the second row: Smith and Tuisamoa. All of the other options also play the back row. Clever is coming in from Japan, where he has lined up against quite a few former All Blacks. Lavalla is firmly established at Stade Francais, so he is also regularly playing against good competition. Manoa is simply a beast and has been playing at 8 so far this year for Northampton. Stanfill is a strong leader, a solid physical presence, but is not as dynamic as Barrett or DolanBarrett is playing with the USA 7s and Dolan with Northampton. They are young, athletic, and seem to be ready to front up to any competition.

Brett Thompson wearing a cool looking US jersey

Brett Thompson wearing a cool looking US jersey

In the backs, the halfback pairing is largely untested. Shalom Suniula has not played much rugby at scrum half, but he will almost certainly start at 9.  Adam Siddall has not played a lot of his rugby at fly half, and he hasn’t had played that much with Shalom Suniula. In the centers, Kelley has been trialing with Gloucester. He graduated from Cal last spring, and he is a player who has looked solid or better every time he steps onto the pitch. Folau Niua had a stint in Scotland last year and is now back with the Sevens team. He is a big body who can make plays and kick reasonably well.  Andrew Suniula is based in New York now and is another familiar option for Coach Tolkin. The strength of the backline is in the back three. Wyles has been a regular at Saracens for quite a few year now, and Scully has impressed in his relatively short time at Leicester. Brett Thompson is at Edinburgh this season having impressed over the summer.

In Manoa, Lavalla, Wyles, and Scully the Eagles have some big time players. In guys like Thompson, Barrett, Dolan and Kelly, the Eagles have some young players who are fun to watch and might be ready to step up.

Jamie’s All Black preview:

The current southern hemisphere season has seen the All Blacks fashion a 9-1-1 record, all against tier-1 nations. In that time they have won The Rugby Championship and retained the Bledisloe Cup. Their only loss this season was to the Springboks at Ellis Park, Johannesburg, traditionally the hardest away fixture that exists for the All Blacks.

 

Jun. 6, 2014 England W: 20-15
Jun. 14, 2014 England W: 28-27
Jun. 21, 2014 England W: 36-13
Aug. 16, 2014 Australia D: 12-12
Aug. 23, 2014 Australia W: 51-20
Sep. 6, 2014 Argentina W: 28-9
Sep. 13, 2014 South Africa W: 14-10
Sep. 28. 2014 Argentina W: 34-13
Oct. 5, 2014 South Africa L: 25-27
Oct. 18, 2014 Australia W: 29-28

I’ve detailed the touring squad in my last column, however it should be noted for this game it’s a rare opportunity for the All Blacks to blood some of their newer players in a starting spot. Given that there are a few fresh faces in the side, it is likely that they’ll all feature in this test.

Joe Moody, owner of a fine beard

Joe Moody, owner of a fine beard

This means a start in the number 2 jersey beckons for third-string hooker Nathan Harris, who a couple of months ago probably would have slapped you if you had told him he’d be walking the streets of Chicago this week. Big prop Charlie Faumuina will most likely start at prop and be given a chance to showcase his impressive open-field play. Another 2014 new-boy Joe Moody will get a run in the front row. The locks will probably feature some experience in the form of Sam Whitelock, but Brodie Rettalick will rest. Captain Richie McCaw will lead the side from flanker, while recalled loosie Victor Vito will get a run after an impressive ITM Cup.

Augustine Pulu will probably have to wait till the Scotland test to make his debut with some experience preferred at halfback in the form of TJ Perenara with Aaron Smith on the bench as cover, while the main interest for NZ fans will be who is playing outside. Has Aaron Cruden done his time after his drunken indiscretion? Will Beauden Barrett get to continue his solid form of late? Or will the king himself, Dan Carter, be fit enough to even make it onto the bench? Outside them things could get a bit experimental for the All Blacks, Ryan Crotty could find himself paired up with Sonny Bill Williams in a new-look midfield. Julian Savea will add some strike power out wide (they’ll want to be putting his impressive frame in front of as many American eyes as possible), while the other wing and fullback could be a myriad of incredibly strong options.

The man known by his initials: SBW

The man known by his initials: SBW

The big question over a game like this is if the new All Black combinations can slot in seamlessly and pick up the game plan. The big question mark will be over SBW, however if he is to link up with Crotty the two have played before together in the Crusaders midfield. It’ll be interesting to see how Perenara goes if he gets the start, although again he’s no stranger to that given that he has owned the Hurricanes number 9 jersey ever since Piri Weepu left town. Carter’s injury concerns aside, his form will need to get back to it’s best quickly (like within 80 minutes, to be exact) to convince the selectors (all 4 million of us) that he deserves his job back for next year’s World Cup.

We’ll be back with our final preview, score predictions and key match-ups later in the week. Until then, who do you most want to see in the respective lineups? What else are you looking forward to if you’re lucky enough to be going to Soldier Field?

That’s it for now. Feel free to comment below, please look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter@:RugbyWrapUpJunoir Blaber, Nick HallJames HarringtonJamie WallJaime LoydDJ EberleCody KuxmannKaren RitterJake Frechette and Declan Yeats, respectively.

Filed in: Jake FrechetteJamie WallSouthern HemisphereTest RugbyUSAWorld Cup & Tests
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About the Author ()

Jamie Wall grew up in Wellington, NZ and enjoyed a stunningly mediocre playing career in which the highlight was a seat on the bench for his club's premier side. He's enjoyed far more success spouting his viewpoints on anything to do with Rugby to anyone that'll care to listen.

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