Thursday, November 15, 2012

Preview: Women Eagles vs. Italy

For all the noise about the lack of games for the Eagles, double it and you get the situation the Women Eagles currently face. This Sunday, when the Eagles take on Italy in the first match of their three match European tour, it will be the first time the team has played since August 2011 and only the fifth match since the World Cup. To fill in that gap, head coach Pete Steinberg has had to come up with creative ways of getting top players matches. One of those ways was hosting a camp in Colorado Springs earlier in the year in which the players were divided into teams and play three matches against each other in a week span. Not only did this camp help identify players for the current tour, but also helped players get accustomed to playing in situations with little turnaround.

However, for the team currently in Europe, the best preparation may have been the recently completed national championships and Women's Premier League. 14 of the players invited on the tour played in the Women's Premier League. Others played for top clubs like Chicago Northshore and Oregon Sports Union. All in all, the team should be ready to go this Sunday.

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Let's take a look at the Eagles first test against Italy.

Women Eagles- The team has arrived in Rome ahead of Sunday's match and has already had the opportunity to get in some good training sessions. That will be vital in order to help the team gain continuity. Still, the team does return a number of veterans, including 11 of the 29 players on the roster. The team also includes players that have shown a lot of promise, like Sadie Anderson, Kaelene Lundstrum, and Valerie Griffeth. The team also will have some veterans returning to the team like Jen Lui. While the team is deep, it will be missing some of the players currently in 7's residency. That means that young talent like Katie Dowty, Kelly Griffin, and Bui Baravivlala will be unavailable due to the scheduling conflict with the first leg of the IRB Womens Sevens World Sereis in Dubai. Those players will be available for the World Cup, however. Lundstrum, and fellow contract player Kimber Rozier have been allowed to play on the tour.

Since it's been over a year since the Women Eagles last played a match it's impossible to tell what kind of form they are on at the moment, but if the 2011 Nations Cup is to be used as a platform, the Eagles will want to show more consistency. At the Nations Cup the Women Eagles lost all three of their group matches, including a tight 15-11 affair against England. The team can play better than they did at that tournament and will be looking to show it in Italy.

The big question for Steinberg heading into this match is what kind of lineup to run out. He needs to see players in different situations so he can't just go with the same starters every match. Normally playing Italy, a team they should beat, would be the perfect opportunity, but with two matches against France in only four days, it may be too much to ask his first team to log double duty. Look for him to put out his first team against Italy.

Italy- The Italian women have played more often than the Eagles, including eight so far this year. Five of those matches came in the Women's Six Nations where they lost four and won one to finish second from bottom in the table. Their only win came against lowly Scotland and they were blown out in the rest of their matches. They did better when they hosted a pool of the Women's European Championship but that was mainly due to some of the top teams missing key players due to 7's duty. Italy did not participate in the last two World Cups. That doesn't mean they will be a pushover, however.

Keys to the Match-

Avoid silly mistakes- Because the Women Eagles haven't played together in a while, it will take time for them to gel. They have the talent to defeat Italy, but if they aren't cohesive and gift Italy points, they could be punished.

Use athleticism- The Women Eagles are one of the most athletic international women's rugby teams. Not only are the strong up front, but they are quick in the back. If they want to get the result, they will need to maximize these talents.

Integrate new players- Many on the team have played together before, but it will be vital ahead of the 2014 World Cup to get the new players acclimated into the squad. The match against Italy will be the perfect opportunity.

Prediction- The Women Eagles win handily.

The match will be this Sunday at 9 a.m. et/6 a.m. pt. You can follow on the Women Eagles facebook page.

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