SAN DIEGO, CA
That’s where we stand after the first leg of the Americas Rugby World Cup qualifying series between the United States and Canada.
Can you feel the tension?
Tomorrow’s match will decide who moves directly on to Japan 2019 and who continues the qualification effort against the best of the remaining South American rugby unions. At the moment, predicting the victor is a tossup but we can expect both sides to be raring to get the match started.
Looking back, the United States was nowhere near clinical in the first leg in Hamilton, ON. Lookin forward, the Eagles’ retain much of the same lineup that started the first leg against the Canadians.
In the backs, Nate Augspurger moves back to scrum-half after a stent on the wing last week. He renews what has been a safe, but slightly underwhelming connection with Irish born fly-half AJ MacGinty, who himself will be performing the kicking duties for the Americans. Super Rugby product Marcel Brache starts for the second week in a row along side Bryce Campbell in the center, a grouping that showed flashes of brilliance against the Canadians and was not bad on the defensive side of the ball. The USA’s back three takes on new faces from last week with Ryan Matyas and 7s star Madison Hughes joining right winger Mike Te’o at left wing and fullback, respectively.
“We have to keep the ball in the 15 m channels,” said Te’o. “81% of our turnovers came on the edges of the field, so we have to get a number way down. Once we lower our back line turnovers then we will be in much better shape.”
USA head coach John Mitchell has opted for three changes in the forwards with Chris Baumann returning from injury to replace Paddy Ryan in the front row, Ben Landry stepping aside for Nate Brakeley in the second row, and Tony Lamborn replacing John Quill at #7. Baumann makes his returning start alongside Tony Purpura and James Hilterbrand at tight-head prop and hooker, respectively, a trio looking to establish early dominance over what is traditionally a very good set of Canadian front rowers. Brakeley’s return reforms his partnership with Nick Civetta, a combo that did well against Georgia. With John Quill dropping to the bench, Tony Lamborn, Todd Clever, and Cam Dolan take up the reins as America’s loose forwards.
After seeing the USA’s last three roster renditions during this summer series, this lineup by far shows the most promise.
Baumann’s return is a big boost for scrum stability and overall pack strength. Nate Brakeley stepping into the second row has the potential to provide breakdown efficiency that was lacking with Ben Landry. The inclusion of Madison Hughes brings an X factor to the Eagles’ backs that will try to throw a wrench in the Canadians’ game plan.
Apart from roster changes, I’m excited because it is Todd Clever’s last game of international rugby. No, I’m not excited because he will not be playing for the Eagles anymore; I’m excited for to see how the passion of such a momentous occasion brings to such a pivotal match.
The American talisman decided that San Diego would be his final destination on the international circuit and every single one of his teammates want to see him go out with a victory and a secured place in the World Cup.
“I’m excited. A couple of the boys asked me at breakfast about it and I think I’m more excited for the big game rather than just for myself,” remarked USA Captain Todd Clever following their captains run at Torero Stadium this morning. “It’s a huge opportunity for us to qualify as Americas 1, and I think that’s where the good energy and excitement are coming from.”
Catch the game on The Rugby Channel in the United States (unfortunately behind the pay wall) and on TSN in Canada from 6 Eastern, 3 Pacific.
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