HOUSTON, TX – The USA Rugby Men’s Eagles have announced their 28-player travel roster for the Team USA v Scotland match in Houston on Saturday. This gets us in the mood for some Eagles nitty-gritty.
USA Squad Notes:
The first questions – for me anyway – surround the scrum-half position. Mike Petri is the guy. If we agree with Eagles’ head coach Mike Tolkin that he is the form player at the moment- Mike Holzman thought his play at the scrimmage was good – we are still left with questions for the short and long term. Short term for Houston; Shalom Suniula is the second choice scrum half. Shalom has been getting the reps in practice and will fill in if needed. On this matter, Tolkin commented, “We’re fine with our setup.”
For the long term, Tolkin thinks there are “Some good guys coming down the line.” He specifically mentioned Madison Hughes as someone the Eagles want to develop at 9. Hughes apparently had a conflict as he is finishing up academics. Tolkin also mentioned Tom Bliss, who is now signed with Wasps. Apparently, these are the two young guys we will be seeing more of soon. It seems as though the Eagles will cruise with the status quo until one of those guys is ready.
Injuries have limited the Eagles’ choices at fly half. Toby L’Estrange is still recovering from a broken leg. Adam Siddall was in camp, but limited to non-contact activities. Troy Hall has been practicing in the centers and in the back three. He has been making good progress back from his knee injury. It seems likely that Folau Niua will start at 10 against Scotland.
For the front row, Shawn Pittman is in the traveling squad, but he still needs to pass another test or two before he is cleared and deemed fit to play (concussion). Speaking about Eric Fry, Tolkin said there is value to the squad in having a prop who can handle either side of the scrum. Fry, Tolkin, and Forwards Coach Justin Fitzpatrick have discussed Fry’s development, and it looks like he will continue to try and develop as both a tight and loosehead prop.
With Scotland mixing up their squad and with the match in Houston being Vern Cotter’s first as Scotland’s coach, it seems tough for the Eagles to prepare for a specific Scottish game plan or specific patterns. Eagles’ coach Mike Tolkin described preparations for a team with a new coach as “Nothing out of the ordinary.” There is plenty of game tape they might watch: Scotland from the Six Nations, Glasgow and Edinburgh matches, or even Clermont-Auvergne to see Cotter’s predilections. My thoughts below are based on the Six Nations.
The Scotland squad in Houston will be missing key players from the Six Nations like Duncan Weir, but the squad does include veterans like Johnnie Beattie, Alasadair Strokosch, Sean Lamont, and Chris Cusiter. The Scotland lineup was in a bit of flux during the Six Nations, so it isn’t clear who the first choice Scotland side would be under Cotter at the moment. Cotter has brought enough good players to Houston to field a strong side.
For the Eagles against Uruguay, everyone knew that the set piece would be a key. Scotland offers a slightly different challenge. Reviewing some recent Scotland games, one of the things they will almost certainly look to do is execute as many off-loads as possible. The kind of off-load I am talking about isn’t Sonny Bill Williams-style. These are short pop passes to runners in lines of support that are tight to the ball carrier. This attack works if the ball carrier isn’t effectively tackled by the first defender to hit him. As soon as a second or third tackler is needed to put the ball carrier to deck, there is space. We don’t know if this style is something Cotter will really want to stick with, but the Scotland players know that style and can execute. Their record in this year’s Six Nations shows that the execution isn’t perfect, but the Eagles aren’t Wales. The Eagles need to make their 1-on-1 tackles.
Scotland will likely have the advantage in kicking for territory. With Blaine Scully and Chris Wyles, the US has two players with confidence and good decision-making skills. However, when the kicking of the half backs is included, it seems that Scotland will be able to manage field position more effectively than the Eagles. Scotland also will not be afraid to attack from deep. It seems likely that Scotland will be patient in attack until, or if, the US starts to tire and lose their defensive line with the kick-chase.
Against Italy, the team in the Six Nations closest to the Eagles’ level, Scotland used a lineout move in which the two players at the tail of the lineout dropped off as the ball was thrown and were then ready to serve as ball carriers or on-side chasers of the kick. 1) That’s so illegal it might make Richie McCaw blush. 2) So long as the Eagles are ready for it, no problem posed. The lineout is a facet of the match the US can win. What I really mean is that Cam Dolan can keep the pressure on the Scotland lineout and deprive them of at least one predictable attacking platform. Scotland’s attacks from the lineout will likely be predictable stuff and not a real threat to the Eagles. The Eagles’ lineout should have plenty of options, even if, as against Uruguay, Samu Manoa is often left in the centers to be a menace in the first phase after the line out.
The US attack against Uruguay, in terms of set piece moves and patterns, was itself pretty straight forward. In talking to Tolkin, he seemed comfortable with the squad’s ability to play as a unit since half have been in camp the whole time, and those joining this week were assembled in March. That suggests that not much will change in terms of the game plan.
In addition to the offloads, the Scots featured the aforementioned Duncan Weir running at an angle from first receiver, inviting defenders to come out of the line to hit him and inviting his support runners to take sharp angles off of his. It isn’t clear if this is something that Scotland will use in Houston, but if the 10 challenges the line on the angle, the Eagles will need to meet him quickly.
The Eagles can win if…
They have some front foot ball from scrums and the halfbacks play well.
Scotland will win if…
The Eagles spend chunks of time inside the Scotland half and come away consistently without points.
Eagles’ squad for USA v Scotland:
Forwards: Danny Barrett, Todd Clever, Tom Coolican, Cameron Dolan, Eric Fry, Olive Kilifi, Titi Lamositele, Scott Lavalla, Samu Manoa, Shawn Pittman, Hayden Smith, Louis Stanfill, Kyle Sumsion, Phil Thiel, Tai Tuisamoa, Nick Wallace
Backs: Miles Craigwell, Troy Hall, Luke Hume, Seamus Kelly, Chad London, Tim Maupin, Folau Niua, Mike Petri, Blaine Scully, Andrew Suniula, Shalom Suniula, Chris Wyles
Scotland squad for the Test matches v USA and Canada
Forwards: Alex Allan (Glasgow Warriors) Age 22 uncapped; Johnnie Beattie (Montpellier) Age 28 Caps 30; Kelly Brown (Saracens) Age 31 Caps 63; Kevin Bryce (Glasgow Warriors) Age 25 uncapped; Blair Cowan Age 28 uncapped; Geoff Cross (both London Irish)Age 31 Caps 28; Grant Gilchrist (Edinburgh Rugby) Age 23 Caps 4; Richie Gray (Castres) Age 24 Caps 37; Jim Hamilton (Montpellier) Age 31 Caps 55; Scott Lawson (Newcastle Falcons) Age 32 Caps 43; Kieran Low (London Irish)Age 23 Cap 1; Moray Low (Exeter Chiefs) Age 29 Caps 26 Pat MacArthur (Glasgow Warriors) Age 27 Caps 4; Gordon Reid (Glasgow Warriors) Age 27 uncapped; Alasdair Strokosch (Perpignan) Age 31 Caps 38 and Kyle Traynor (Bristol Rugby) Age 28 Caps 4.
Backs: Chris Cusiter (Sale Sharks) Age 31 Caps 68; Alex Dunbar (Glasgow Warriors) Age 24 Caps 8; Max Evans (Castres) Age 30 Caps 42; Tom Heathcote (Bath Rugby) Age 22 Caps 3; Stuart Hogg (Glasgow Warriors) Age 21 Caps 20; Greig Laidlaw (Gloucester) Age 28 Caps 29; Sean Lamont Age 33 Caps 86; Sean Maitland Age 25 Caps 9; Finn Russell (all Glasgow Warriors) Age 21 uncapped; Duncan Taylor (Saracens) Age 24 Caps 10 and Tim Visser (Edinburgh Rugby) Age 26 Caps 12.
Scotland squad for Test matches v Argentina and South Africa
Forwards: Kevin Bryce (Glasgow Warriors) Age 25, uncapped; Geoff Cross (London Irish) Age 31, Caps 28; David Denton Age 24 Caps 22; Alasdair Dickinson Age 30 Caps 34; Ross Ford Age 30 Caps 75 (all Edinburgh Rugby); Chris Fusaro (Glasgow Warriors) Age 24 Caps 2; Grant Gilchrist (Edinburgh Rugby)Age 23 Caps 4; Jonny Gray Age 20 Caps 3; Rob Harley Age 24 Caps 4 (both Glasgow Warriors); Moray Low (Exeter Chiefs) Age 29 Caps 26; Pat MacArthur Age 27 Caps 4, Gordon Reid Age 27 uncapped (both Glasgow Warriors); Tim Swinson Age 27 Caps 7; and Jon Welsh Age 27 Caps 2 (both Glasgow Warriors).
Backs: Alex Dunbar (Glasgow Warriors) Age 24 Caps 8; Dougie Fife Age 23 Cap 1; Grayson Hart Age 25 uncapped (both Edinburgh Rugby); Stuart Hogg Age 21 Caps 20, Peter Horne Age 24 Caps 2 (both Glasgow Warriors); Ruaridh Jackson (London Wasps) Age 26 Caps 23, Sean Maitland Age 25 Caps 9; Peter Murchie Age 28 Caps 2; Henry Pyrgos Age 24 Caps 10; Tommy Seymour Age 25 Caps 8; and Duncan Weir Age 23 Caps 13 (all Glasgow Warriors).
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