The last time they met was in Japan in June of 2013, and Fiji won 35-10. That game was part of a 7-game losing streak for the USA (8, if you don’t count the Americas Rugby Championship).
In 2014, the Eagles are 3-4-1. If the Americas Rugby Championship matches are included, the record is 5-5-1. While not great, the Eagles are in a better position than they were in the summer of 2013. If they were to defeat Fiji, they would finish the calendar year with an even record. That would be good.
Unfortunately, looking at the Fiji roster and run-on side brings some pretty sour news for the Eagles. As a rugby fan, the game will offer some passages of play that will be fun to watch. As an Eagles’ fan, I fear most of that fun will come at the expense of the Americans.
The Fijian lineup is full of guys who are in top-level club set-ups around the world. Two players poised to have big games Friday night are Leone Nakawara and Nemani Nadolo. Nakawara is an off-loading master. Playing for the Glasgow Warriors, he is an integral part of that club’s strong and entertaining play. Nadolo plays for the Crusaders and is a powerful runner (as videos like this one show).
The Eagles’ defense has not been particularly good at preventing off loads or at recovering after an initial line break. Fiji is going to get the off loads away, and they are going to have some line breaks. Fiji should not have trouble getting the Eagles scrambling.
Lining up across from Nadolo and Leicester’s Vereniki Goneva are Thretton Palamo and Seamus Kelly. Starting Kelly instead of Andrew Suniula is an interesting decision given their current form. If the Eagles are going to pressure Fiji, they will need someone beyond Shalom Suniula making good decisions in the backline. Last week, Folau Niua was the man to help Shalom out with both decision making and clearing kicks. Niua is back with the Eagles 7s, so it isn’t clear how the exit strategies and attack will shift in his absence. Ronald McLean gets his first cap at 15, despite playing 13 for the Ealing Trail Finders. Apart from his calendar appearance, not much is yet known about his strengths.
It is possible the Eagles spent a lot of time working on their driving maul given how Fiji struggled to defend that against Wales. The Eagles have not been particularly adventurous from their lineout ball, so it seems worth a shot to see if they can have success with the maul. Simple scissors or skip passes are unlikely to trouble to Fiji defense much. It is possible that Todd Clever, who is returning to the starting lineup and captaincy, will serve the role as the battering runner to help soften the midfield defense to create the space out wide of Taku Ngwenya and Tim Stanfill.
What the Eagles must hope for is that some of the Fijian runners end up isolated. If a good tackle is made on a one-off runner, then the Eagles will have a chance to counter, or at least win some penalties. John Quill will need to be ready to scavenge in defense.
Fiji might not be able to put the Eagles under the same pressure at scrum time, but Pacific Islanders are likely to put more pressure on the breakdown than did Tonga.
It seems likely that Fiji will get off to a good start, relishing the chance to run against defense less than France and Wales. They will be able to create enough chances that, even if not at their sharpest or most clinical, they will score several tries. The Eagles have shown they have some fight, so they will get a try of their own, maybe two, near the end. Most of the match, though, will be Fiji’s. The best that the Eagles are likely to do is keep swinging back at Fiji when they’ve been put on the ropes.
The match will be streamed live at WorldRugby.org.
Men’s Eagles | v Fiji
1. Olive Kilifi 2. Phil Thiel 3. Mate Moeakiola 4. John Cullen 5. Greg Peterson 6. Scott LaValla 7. John Quill 8. Todd Clever (C)
9. Mike Petri 10. Shalom Suniula 11. Tim Stanfill 12. Thretton Palamo 13. Seamus Kelly 14. Takudzwa Ngwenya 15. Ronald McLean
Men’s Eagles | Reserves
16. Tom Coolican 17. Nick Wallace 18. Benjamin Tarr 19. Matt Trouville 20. Kyle Sumsion 21. Roland Suniula 22. Andrew Suniula 23. Tim Maupin
Fiji | Starting XV
1. Peni Ravai Kovekalou 2. Tua Tuapati 3. Manasa Saulo Ramumu 4. Leone Nakarawa 5. Tevita Cavubati 6. Akapusi Qera 7. Mala Ravulo 8. Masi Matadigo
9. Henry Seniloli 10. Josh Matavesi 11. Asaeli Tikoirotuma 12. Nemani Nadolo Nasiganiyavi 13. Vereniki Goneva 14. Watisoni Votu 15. Timoci Nagusa
Fiji | Reserves
16. Sunia Koto 17. Isei Colati 18. Taniela Koroi 19. Nemia Soqeta 20. Dominiko Waqanibutorukula 21. Nemia Kenatale Ranuku 22. Jonetani Ralulu 23. Waisea Nayacalevu Vuidravuwalu
Men’s Eagles | November Tour
v Fiji – Stade de la Rabine (Vannes, France) – Nov. 21 @ 1 p.m. ET
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