TORONTO, CANADA – After a morale boosting win against Japan, the USA head north of the border to face a powerful Tonga side in a Wednesday afternoon clash. You can watch on ESPN3.com, kicking off at 3:30 PM EST.
The USA’s intense international schedule- three matches in nine days – necessitated wholesale lineup changes. An astonishing thirteen new starters will come out of the woodwork, including a return to the Eagles for Toby L’Estrange and Troy Hall.
The Eagles’ lineup has a strong smattering of sevens stars. Zack Test will start after coming on as a substitute against Japan and Samoa, while Shalom Suniula returns to the starting scrum half berth. They are joined by fellow sevens players Folau Niua and former Edinburgh winger Brett Thompson. Thompson saw a promising term with the Scottish Pro12 team cut short by injury, so he is a man with a point to prove to Coach Mike Tolkin.
Last time these two teams faced, Tonga ran away from the Americans, scoring five tries in a 40-12 triumph played on foreign soil at Gloucester. A victory here will secure Tonga’s place in the Pacific Nations’ Cup “final.” Though the PNC’s unusual and inconsistent formatting dims the luster of winning the championship somewhat, Tonga’s coach Mana Otai wants to face the best possible competition ahead of his team’s trip to England, and therefore has placed a high priority on the final pool match. Otai has already named his World Cup squad, so now the 31 players are competing for spots in the starting fifteen in the opening World Cup match against Georgia. Tonga face a tough road to qualify for the quarterfinals, but they should be able to defeat Namibia and Georgia handily. Their crunch match will be against the Argentines. After a weak showing in the first half against Canada last week, the islanders showed their class by running away from their opponents in the final forty minutes. If Tonga turns on the jets against the Eagles, the mostly second-string lineup will be hard-pressed to keep up.
It is a testament to the growth of the USA’s program over the past four years that even a second fifteen looks like a relatively solid international side. The Eagles’ deserved victory over Japan gave perspective for the team’s evolution over the past twelve months. If the Americans have turned a corner, they could realistically point to last year’s match in this tournament against Canada for providing the impetus for continued improvement. While the Canadians raise more questions with every match they play, the Eagles have pushed forward in the first two matches of the Pacific Nations Cup, and have some answers to show for their hard work.
Thanks to the scheduled triple-header in Toronto, the Eagles will kick off at 3:30 pm ET. However, with ESPN3 once again providing coverage, supporters that have to miss the match due to work should be able watch the replay almost immediately after the conclusion of the match, at around 6 ET.
The Rugby Corner has been providing excellent commentary, seemingly solving a long-standing gripe from many American supporters. Now, if someone could teach the ESPN camera crews how to shoot rugby (hint: zoom out from the breakdown every now and then), US fans could finally have a long-term solution to the spotty coverage that has plagued the sport. With the USA’s addition of an Over the Top service in the immediate future, things are looking brighter than ever for fans of the sport who wish to support their national team.
Feel free to comment below, look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter@: RugbyWrapUp, Nick Hall, Junoir Blaber, James Harrington, Jamie Wall, DJ Eberle, Jake Frechette, Scheenagh Harrington, Jamie Loyd, Cody Kuxmann, Karen Ritter, Audrey Youn, Akweley Okine, Rocky Brown and Declan Yeats, respectively.