PHILADELPHIA, PA – According to the Gloucester Citizen, the crowd for the USA Eagles v Tonga match could bring in a crowd of 10,000. Especially after last
November’s match against Russia at Allianz park, which drew a tiny crowd, that would be great for the players and for the match. Hooker Aleki Lutui, reserve prop Sila Puafisi, and flanker Sione Kalamafoni all play for Gloucester. That might help give the local community reason to turn up. Seamus Kelly, who gets another start for the Eagles, is awaiting to see what comes after his trial with Gloucester.
Those who do turn up are likely to see a match that is close for most of the 80 minutes. Tonga have beaten the US twice in two years: 18-9 in June 2013 at the Home Depot Center and 22-13 at Colwyn Bay in November of 2012. This year’s clash is likely to see more points than the previous two.
Tonga’s scrum struggled at times against Georgia last week. This might be a sign that the Americans will be able to compete at scrum time. Olive Kilifi is out with injury and Mate Moeakiola starts. Maybe the Eagles get through without yellow cards or penalty tries.
The Tongans against Georgia showed an ability for the forwards, like captain Nili Latu, to figure in set plays from the lineout. They were not simply used as battering rams; they also distributed the ball. This will likely be a problem for the Eagles’ defense. Additionally, Tonga showed a willingness and ability to kick from hand in unpredictable moments. When the US back three are organized, they should be good, but Tonga might catch them off guard.
Takudzwa Ngwenya was listed as available for this match when the Eagles’ squad was first announced, but this week it was announced he had “passport issues.” Tim Maupin and Tim Stanfill have shown themselves capable of strong games, but neither has the pace or experience of Ngwenya.
David Halaifonua on the wing is a brute of a runner. If he gets a crack at Stanfill, Stanfill will need some help. The help might have to come from Andrew Suniula. Andrew Suniula played well against Romania and had several choke tackles that ended up as turnovers to the US.
John Cullen and Greg Peterson get their first starts in the second row. Peterson is so new to the Eagles’ set up that his player bio is his Waratahs bio, complete with a clear suggestion that he hopes to represent Australia, as he did at the U20 level. Oops.
Adam Siddall slotted some difficult conversions last week against Romania, and he will be missed. Shalom Suniula has said he wants to play 10, and this is a good chance for him to show he can run the game.
The match may well come down to the last 20 minutes. Tonga has a bench that includes scrum half Taniula Moa, who came on and scored two tries late in the match against Georgia. The Eagles don’t have that kind of spark on the bench. It is an inexperienced bench, on the whole. Perhaps Ronald McLean will be able to provide some spark. He was not in the originally announced squad for the November tour and is another player too new for a USA Rugby player profile. Also on the bench are Kyle Sumsion and Angus Maclellan–both still in college.
The Eagles do have some muscle on the bench. Should they find themselves ahead in the final quarter, Todd Clever, Tai Tuisamoa, and Thretton Palamo should help finish the game. If the Eagles have players go down early through injury, a lot of reshuffling might need to happen.
The Eagles are playing with some confidence and a sense of purpose, so they will score a try or two and hang in the game.
This will be Tonga’s game by the final whistle, though.
The match will be streamed by the IRB and kicks off at 11:45 a.m. ET.
Men’s Eagles | v Tonga
1. Nick Wallace 2. Phil Thiel 3. Mate Moeakiola 4. John Cullen 5. Greg Peterson 6. Scott LaValla (C) 7. John Quill 8. Matt Trouville
9. Mike Petri 10. Shalom Suniula 11. Tim Stanfill 12. Andrew Suniula 13. Seamus Kelly 14. Tim Maupin 15. Folau Niua
16. Tom Coolican 17. Angus Maclellan 18. Benjamin Tarr 19. Tai Tuisamoa 20. Kyle Sumsion 21. Todd Clever 22. Thretton Palamo 23. Ronald McLean
Tonga | Starting XV
1. Tevita Mailau 2. Aleki Lutui 3. Paea Fa’anunu 4. Tukulua Lokotui 5. Joe Tu’ineau 6. Sione Kalamafoni 7. Nili Latu (C) 8. Viliami Ma’afu
9. Sonatane Takulua 10. Kurt Morath 11. Fetu’u Vainikolo 12. Hermani Paea 13. Siale Piutau 14. David Halaifonua 15. Vungakoto Lilo
16. Elvis Taione 17. Sione Lea 18. Sila Puafisi 19. Lisiate Fa’aoso 20. Hale T Pole 21. Taniula Moa 22. Latiume Fosita 23. Otulea Katoa
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