AUCKLAND, NZ/PHILADELPHIA, PA – In less than 48 hours the All Blacks roll into Chicago’s Soldier Field to square up against the US Eagles. It’s an event 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. Here’s their final preview before kick off on the Midway.
The full teams:
US Eagles: Chris Wyles, Blaine Scully, Seamus Kelly, Andrew Suniula, Brett Thompson, Adam Siddall, Danny Barrett, Scott Lavalla, Todd Clever (c), Hayden Smith, Samu Manoa, Olive Kilifi, Phil Thiel, Eric Fry
Bench: Tom Coolican, Nick Wallace, Mate Moeakiola, Tai Tuisamoa, Louis Stanfill, Shalom Suniula, Folau Niua, Troy Hall
All Blacks: Israel Dagg, Cory Jane, Ryan Crotty, Sonny Bill Williams, Charles Piutau, Aaron Cruden, TJ Perenara, Kieran Read, Sam Cane, Victor Vito, Patrick Tuipulotu, Jeremy Thrush, Charlie Faumuina, Nathan Harris, Joe Moody.
Bench: Keven Mealamu, Wyatt Crockett, Ben Franks, Brodie Retallick, Liam Messam, Augustine Pulu, Dan Carter, Julian Savea.
We’re going to break it all down across the field so you’ll have a wealth of knowledge when the whistle blows time on in Chi-Town.
Jake says: The Eagles back three will be challenged defensively, making some touch choices as the All Blacks build pressure and stretch the US defense. Wyles, the veteran of the bunch, is not easily rattled and will play hard to the end. In attach, they are a talented group, all based in Europe, and all with the skills to finish if they get half a chance.
Jamie says: This is an area where the All Blacks have the most depth and honestly there’s about a dozen players who’ll be watching this game on TV back in NZ who would be able to slot into this lineup and kill it. Dagg, Jane and Piutau will be hunting for at least a couple of tries each.
Jake says: Kelly, a potential captain of the future, has a strong work rate and is a solid tackler, but getting the All Black runners to ground quickly to stop the off loads won’t be easy. He and Suniula have played together enough so that can read each other pretty well.
Jamie says: The most interesting combo out there for the All Blacks. Crotty has been admirably solid in his career so far without really troubling the highlight reel makers, while inside him sees the prodigal son of New Zealand sport (not just rugby) make his return to a black jersey. SBW will look to offload at every opportunity so the Eagles would be best to try and tackle him two at a time.
Jake says: A year ago, Siddall helped the Eagles play tough against the Maori, but he hasn’t had much time at fly half for the Eagles. A good performance here will make him the default 10 moving toward the World Cup. Petri’s decision making improved during the summer and he can add a spark, but mostly he will be asked to be smart with whatever clean ball he gets.
Jamie says: Bad boy Aaron Cruden has done his time in the dog box with the coaching staff (though maybe not his wife) after his drunken antics a month ago and gets a start at first five. He’ll be looking to slot straight back into the form that saw him start every test this year until then. As predicted, TJ Perenara gets his first start at halfback in a test.
He’s seen as the clear back up to Aaron Smith and their tussle for the starting spot at next year’s World Cup will be very interesting.
Jake says: Danny Barrett will be able to match the pace of Vito, but the Eagles lack a true fetcher in the backrow. This is a potential legacy game for Clever whose most important job might be managing the relationship with the ref. Lavalla has played in enough big games now in Europe and with the Eagles that he should not be awed by the opponent and should have a solid game.
Jamie says: Victor Vito will be looking to make the most of a recall with a start at blindside and push his case for getting a role in the World Cup side ahead of Steven Luatua, while over on the other side of the scrum Sam Cane gets a rare non-injury-enforced start ahead of Richie McCaw. Sadly for US fans, the only sporting activity McCaw took part in on American soil was missing a few shots on goal at the Chicago Blackhawks game the other night. However, they will be happy to see last year’s IRB Player Of The Year Kieran Read not only starting at number 8, but also captaining the side. Like SBW, offloads will be a big part of his game.
Jake says: Northampton has been using Manoa at 8, but in order to get the best players onto the pitch, Coach Mike Tolkin has used him in the second row. During the most recent Eagles’ games, Manoa was obviously looking to make some big impact plays, and he will need several of those on Saturday. Hayden Smith has been back in the rugby world for a while now, and even though he is not a regular starter for Saracens, he still has the experience and athleticism that justify his selection.
Jamie says: A bit of a roll of the dice here with the relatively inexperienced duo of Jeremy Thrush and Patrick Tuipolotu linking up in the second row. My prediction was badly off as Brodie Retallick will be the back-up and Sam Whitelock gets a rest. This is a great opportunity for Tuipolotu to showcase his open field game while Thrush will be looked upon to do the dirty work in tight.
Jake says: It might get ugly. The plus side is that Kilifi and Thiel have just spent time together from the Americas Rugby Championship and they and Fry are an athletic group. And the All Blacks are not putting forward their strongest front row. Still, this area is a big worry for the Eagles.
Jamie says: If my prediction about the locks was off, I got this one spot on. Nathan Harris joins Tuipolotu in getting his first start in this unique venue, while ball-playing prop Charlie Faumuina will completes his recovery from injury by starting at tight head. Joe Moody completes the run on XV and will probably be a little less nervous than his last start against the Springboks.
Jake says: Coolican has played well off the bench and is pushing Thiel for the starting spot. Tai Tuiasamoa is a serious man on the pitch and will hopefully get some time to show his strength. When the game breaks down, Shalom Suniula and Niua are both inventive players with ball-in-hand.
Jamie says: The forward reserves are fairly predictable, although it is a bit of a surprise to see Retallick in there given his mountain of work so far this year. Messam will most likely be injected to terrorize some tiring legs in the second half, while the rest will probably play less of a part than they usually would in a test match. Augustine Pulu will be stoked to get in the action early in the tour and will be the only debutant in the All Blacks. Savea will be brought in early in the second half to showcase his attacking ability.
The All Blacks will win the game, no suspense there. They’ll be able to launch whatever kind of attacks they want from the scrum, so the best the Eagles can hope for is to keep things stable, win their own feeds, and avoid the yellow cards.
The Americans will also struggle with midfield defense. For at least the first 60 minutes, the crowd and occasion will allow the Eagles to make most of their tackles tight to the breakdown. However, once one break is made, it will be difficult for them to reorganize quickly enough. There will be many overlaps. There will be many tries. The Eagles will have the athletes to compete at the lineout. What they will lack is the organization and anticipation. Still, there is a chance for Hayden Smith, or another Eagle, will be able to steal a lineout or two. There is also a chance they will win some clean ball. If they do, they will almost certainly move the ball quickly to Samu Manoa in midfield for a big crash. Manoa is a player who has grown and can use this game to stake his claim as one of the best in the world.
If the ball moves wide quickly enough, or if the defense is solid enough to force the All Blacks to make a poor kick in field, Blaine Scully and Chris Wyles can finish. Scully has scored some beautiful tries over the last year for club (Leicester) and country. Danny Barrett is another player with pace and the ability to exploit a little bit of space. The Eagles’ game plan can’t assume any ball from scrums. Lineouts will need to be central. Further, the Eagles will need to count on guys like Manoa and Lavalla to get over the gainline and then look to move wide quickly. If they try to build momentum through possession, they will be stymied.
Everything for the Americans must come from defense. If they can limit the big breaks and force the All Blacks to kick rather than counter, they might be able to stay in the game into the second half.
Score prediction: All Blacks 70-11. The Americans will get a late try through Scully and two penalties.
The US will win the debate over which nation has a better national anthem with ease. They should enjoy that while it lasts because that’ll be about as good as it’ll get. As long as the All Blacks don’t get too silly about playing at such a cool stadium, this will definitely be the rout everyone is expecting it to be. Even though it’s not a top-strength line-up, every player on the All Blacks is streets ahead of his American counterpart.
There will be a simple game plan based around individual skill-sets, primarily the off-loading abilities of Read and SBW (although every player will be expected to give the ball if the opportunity is on) and defensive turnovers. The key will be setting the pace of the game, hanging onto the ball and punishing mistakes with ruthless efficiency.
The scrum and line out simply need to hold their ground and maintain accuracy, which shouldn’t be a problem given that even Victor Matfield couldn’t disrupt it in Johannesburg. From there Cruden will dictate play and set up a nice cushy finish for Dan Carter to come on and test out his dodgy knee.
Score prediction: All Blacks 100-0. There, I said it.
Jake’s player to watch: Blaine Scully. Pace. Attitude. Poise. Manoa will need to do so much work in defense, it will be Scully who gives the US the big highlight.
Jamie’s player to watch: Sonny Bill Williams. The All Blacks potentially biggest US marketing tool could do the NZRU’s bank balance a world of good by getting himself on SportCenter’s Top 10.
So there you go, hope everyone is primed and ready for what should be a magnificent occasion. Give us your predictions and reactions to the team lists!
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@:RugbyWrapUp, Junoir Blaber, Nick Hall, James Harrington, Jamie Wall, Jaime Loyd, DJ Eberle, Cody Kuxmann, Karen Ritter, Jake Frechette and Declan Yeats, respectively.