With first match jitters hopefully out of the way, the Eagles Selects will try to improve on last Friday’s performance against Argentina when they take on Canada tonight at 10:30 p.m. et/7:30 p.m. pt. While the match against the Jaguars emphasized particular aspects of the Eagles game they need to improve upon—the scrum, goalkicking, decision-making—there were also things they did well—defense and lineouts—that should see them be very competitive against Canada. Take the jump to read more.
Eagles Selects: Simply put, playing Canada as opposed to Argentina is going to allow the U.S. to see more of the ball, play less defense, and be more assertive on the offensive end. The Argentinean scrum was so dominant that it had the Eagles on the back-foot the whole match, making them unable to do more than to defend for 80 minutes. However, they did defend well despite giving up 39 points, and the defense could show well again against Canada.
One of the biggest things going in the U.S. favor tonight is the relative parity in scrimmaging they should have with Canada. Hooker Derek Asbun has moved to the bench to nurse a sore ankle and is replaced by Stan Moaalii. The Glendale forward played alright as a sub last Friday but will be looked upon to do more in this match, especially in maintaining a strong lineout. Zach Fenoglio has also moved the bench in favor of Anthony Purpura. The only other change in the forwards is Nick Civetta coming in for Tom Katzfey. This forward group looks solid and should be able to hold steady against Canada.
If the forwards can play well, it should free up the backs to have more room to run. The backs looked good in the limited touches the received against the Jaguars but should have more space in this match. Miles Craigwell was very active on Friday and will start once again. He replaces Cornelius Dirksen who is out with injury. All the backline should have an advantage in not having to defend so much. They are a talented group of players and it wouldn’t be surprising to see them pick up several tries.
The halfback situation wasn’t poor against Argentina but it wasn’t great either. Gearoid McDonald once again will start at fly-half where he played alright in his debut last Friday. He has a good frame and makes some smart plays, but his kicking is going to have to be better. Shaun Davies comes in at scrumhalf and will have the opportunity to lead the team for the first time. If he can get the ball out early, that should help the backs make plays.
Starting lineup: Wallace, Moaalii, Purpura, Civetta, Harriman, Mokate, Quill, Dolan, Davies, McDonald, Chapman, Tracy, Gericke, Craigwell, and Pangelinan
Bench: Fenoglio, Paulsen, (spot vacant, presumably for Asbun if healthy), Headlee, Duechle, Mateialona, Clark, and Cowley
Canada: Canada got their Americas Rugby Championship off to a good start with a 28-10 win over Uruguay. The Canadians got up to an early lead and let the match 18-3 at halftime before playing a much more even game in the second half. They were led by Conor Braid’s three penalties, and tries from Tyler Ardon, Patrick Parfrey, and Liam Underwood. Overall, it was a fairly solid effort. The vocal support from strongly partisan home crowd—which the Eagles can expect tonight—helped push the team along.
Canada is pretty much in the same boat as the U.S. at this tournament. Most of their players haven’t had a much time together and are a mix of youngsters and veterans. On the one hand, the team is acting a selection vehicle for their fall tour, while on the other hand, it’s giving time to players that have played at the age-grade level. Regardless of what stage of development the players are at, they have all been playing consistent rugby over the last few months in the Canadian Rugby Championship. That should give them an edge in terms of consistency. The Canadian lineup also features a front-row and back-row entirely made up of players from the CRC champion Ontario Blues. They should be well-familiar with each other and could pose problems for the United States.
All of that being said, the Canadians are beatable. Uruguay is not the toughest side and at times the Canadians struggled to really assert themselves. They are strong in certain areas but there isn’t a section of their team that makes you stand up and take notice like the Eagles back-row does. Some of the players to watch out for are Tyler Ardon and Conor Braid. Both are still very young but are projected to be future stars for Canada. Liam Underwood is also a good player.
Starting lineup: Johnstong, Barkwill, Wolldridge, Flagg, Phelan, Wodzicki, Clark, Ardon, Armstrong, Underwood, Meeres, Parfrey, Blevins, Wilson-Ross, and Braid.
Bench: Parfrey, Buydens, Rumball, Long, Pearson, Coughlin, Kay, and Hart.
What to Expect: Because the U.S. and Canada are so similar in many ways, this should be the closest and most entertaining match of the tournament. The two teams have similar styles, players, and philosophy. Canada are a very tight group but the U.S. seems to have the edge in athleticism. This match is most likely come down to three things: the breakdown, intelligence, and goalkicking.
Athletically, the U.S. should have the edge in the match. Canada’s back-row has gotten a lot of attention but they should be overpowered by the U.S. back-row. The U.S backs are also extremely quick and should have an advantage. The biggest question for the Selects is whether they can use that athleticism to win the breakdown without making too many errors. The Selects were good against Argentina at clearing out the ruck and keeping possession, but they sometimes committed too many simple errors, gifting Argentina points. If they do the same tonight against Canada they will get punished. Conor Braid is a good goalkicker and if the U.S. makes mental errors, he could be in for a big night.
Conversely, if the U.S. is able to maintain their rugby intelligence and avoid costly penalties, their athleticism and tenacity at the ruck could frustrate Canada, causing them to commit penalties. If that is the case, it will come down to whether or not the U.S. can make their kicks. McDonald missed all three of his kicks against Argentina, but he wasn’t far off. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him get another chance. He has plenty of distance, so if he is on, it could be a huge advantage for the Selects. Also expect Davies and Pangelinan to have some opportunities at goal.
The breakdown will also be crucial for getting the ball out to the backs, both for Canada and the Selects. If the U.S. isn’t smart at the breakdown and commit too many numbers, that could leave them exposed in the back. However, if they are able to clearly win the breakdown when they have possession, which will allow Davies to get the ball out to the backs faster.
Prediction: Considering that the teams are so evenly matched, the easy prediction would be a draw. However, that shouldn’t be the case. In this match, the Selects will have worked out some of their problems from Argentina, gotten the nerves out, and will show that they are a good team. The goalkicking should be better and the team should win the breakdown. In the end, the U.S. wins by 10.