KENNESAW, GA — The test against Rugby Europe’s reigning champion, Georgian Rugby, is the USA Eagles’ opportunity to put in a positive showing before June 24’s World Cup qualifying series opener against Canada.
This is the USA’s “learn from your mistakes” moment. My belief in Eagles’ potential remains steadfast, but the outcome of the match rests solely on which USA side shows up to the match: the miss-match bunch we saw last week or the lively Eagles we saw during the Americas Rugby Championship.
USA head coach John Mitchell has named several changes to the side that face Ireland, digressing back to a starting XV circa this year’s ARC.
Most notable is the inclusion of America’s highest capped rugby player, Todd Clever. The 34-year-old from Palm Springs is set to earn his 74th cap and add to the 80 points he has already accumulated for his country. Life University product, Cam Dolan, will start at flanker opposite Clever while Tony Lamborn, who started at flanker against the Irish, moves into #8 to replace David Tameilau. The Georgians often utilize their hard running loose forwards in attack, so this new set of Eagles loose forwards will have a lot on their hands.
A new pairing in the second row has been made as Ben Landry is now set to line up alongside Nate Brakeley, replacing Nick Civetta. Rounding out the changes, Tony Purpura and James Hilterbrand move into tight-head and hooker, respectively, joining Chris Baumann who himself earns a second consecutive start.
As far as the backs go, John Mitchell has opted to push a major shake up in order to power any sort of attacking weight. Shaun Davies moves into scrum-half following an off-the-bench performance against Ireland and will be flanked by newer USA Eagle, Will Magie. Last week’s fly half, AJ MacGinty, moves into the center as he did against Uruguay in the ARC and will have a midfield partnership with Bryce Campbell at outside-center. Nate Augspurger will try to prove his worth on the wing opposite USA 7’s product, Matai Leuta. Mike Te’o rounds out the starting team for the Eagles, reprising his role at fullback.
Many of last week’s starters were moved to the bench to “rest” in preparation for the match against Canada next week, but they are by no means solidified in that lineup. If any of the USA’s starting XV prove themselves against the Georgians, they might just be making a case for a starting cap.
A win over the Georgians would be no small feat. Renowned for their passion for rugby, Georgia has become one of the darlings of the rugby world and they have played well enough to back up that passion with tangible results. Their third place finish in Pool C at the 2015 World Cup with wins against Tonga and Namibia earned them an automatic spot in Japan 2019, so they are definitely a force to be reckoned with.
Georgia has been historically known for maintaining big, strong, yet mobile forwards and dominating scrums. They put in big challenges at the breakdown and are good at the line-out as well.
The Georgians will be slightly less recognizable following the retirement of talisman Mamuka Gorgodze. Arguably Georgia’s best ever rugby player, Gorgodze’s absence is sure to be notable amongst his teammates. Without him Georgia has been slightly underperforming, especially on the road, making tomorrow’s contest even more intriguing.
Catch the USA take on Georgia at 7 EST/4 PST on The Rugby Channel.
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