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Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Preview: Eagles Face Daunting Task In South Africa

Ever since the Eagles qualified for the World Cup and learned they would be placed in Pool B with South Africa, Scotland, Samoa, and Asia 1 (almost certainly Japan) they new they would likely have to sacrifice a match to squad rotation. Once the schedule was out it was clear that it was going to be the South Africa match (11:45 a.m. et/8:45 a.m. pt on Universal Sports and PPV). Although they will have had more than a week since playing Scotland with only a few days before the team plays Japan they were never going to keep the same starting line-up. As a result head coach Mike Tolkin has made near wholesale changes to his line-up.

Typically, as it was in 2011 when the U.S. had to play Australia on a short turnaround and similarly changed out most of their roster, the team they are playing rotates their roster as well. However, given the turmoil in Pool B this year highlighted by Japan's wins over South Africa, the Springboks can't head into what is their last pool match on cruise control and they've named a very strong line-up as a result.

Take the jump to read more.

The combination of a full strength South Africa team and a largely reserve Eagles side means that this match has all the trappings of a one-sided affair. The U.S. were always going to face an uphill battle against South Africa but if both teams were playing reserves there were more shouts that it would be an even affair but now it looks like the U.S. might be lucky if they keep it below 50 points.

That doesn't mean there aren't moral victories to be had. The U.S. has built up a lot more depth over the last four years and players that are starting against South Africa could easily be starters for the first team. Danny Barrett is the first player that comes to mind. Fans have been clamoring for him to start in the first two matches and now he'll get his opportunity. Andrew Suniula, Lou Stanfill, and Folau Niua are three players with plenty of experience. Also, the team will have regulars Samu Manoa and Blaine Scully in the line-up. If the U.S. can play positive rugby at times, defend well, and pull off a score or two they can't be too unhappy with the result. After all, a win (and it's still just a potential win) at the World Cup goes down much better among administrators and non-devoted rugby followers than four defeats.

The Team

The Eagles have kept only three players from the starting line-up against Scotland. Phil Thiel stays at hooker, Samu Manoa will be at number 8, and Blaine Scully will be at fullback. That should provide some stability to the roster. The U.S. should have some strength in the back-row where Danny Barrett and John Quill join Manoa. Lou Stanfill and Matt Trouville have the capability at lock but will also be up against it.

One area in which the U.S. will likely struggle is in the scrum. It's up to the whole forward pack but it begins with the props Ollie Kilifi and Chris Baumann. They haven't exactly impressed in the scrum so far at the World Cup and facing two world-class opposites.

The U.S. will also trot out Niku Kruger at scrumhalf in what is only his third appearance for the team. It's going to be a steep learning curve for him but there is no better place to get it than at the World Cup. Shalom Suniula will be the flyhalf. The rest of the backs have a 7s flavor to them with Zach Test and Brett Thompson on the wings, and Andrew Suniula and Folau Niua in the centers.

Forwards: Ollie Kilifi, Phil Thiel, Chris Baumann, Lou Stanfill, Matt Trouville, Danny Barrett, John Quill, Samu Manoa (C)

Backs: Niku Kruger, Shalom Suniula, Zach Test, Andrew Suniula, Folau Niua, Brett Thompson, Blaine Scully

Bench: Joe Taufetee, Zach Fenoglio, Mate Moeakiola, Titi Lamositele, Cam Dolan, Al McFarland, Mike Petri, Chris Wyles

The Opponents

South Africa have made only two changes to their line-up ahead of their match against the Eagles on Wednesday. Frans Malherbe comes in at prop for Jannie Du Plessis while Lwazi Mvovo replaces JP Pieterson. Bryan Habana will switch to 14. Schalk Burger will make his 17th appearance for the team at the World Cup which equals John Smit's record. The roster reads like a who's who with the likes of Eben Etzebeth, Schalk Burger, Handre Pollard, and Bryan Habana* all in the line-up.

*It's a bummer that Taku Ngwenya isn't at least on the bench for the Eagles. People would have paid a bit of money to see Ngwenya vs. Habana again. 

Forwards: Tendai Mtawarira, Bismarck Du Plessis, Frans Malherbe, Eben Etzebenth, Lodewyk De Jager, Francois Louw, Schalk Burger, Duane Vermuelen

Backs: Fourie Du Preez (C), Handre Pollard, Lwazi Mvovo, Damian De Allende, Jesse Kriel, Bryan Habana, Willie Le Roux

Bench: Schalk Brits, Trevor Nyakane, Coenie Oosthuizen, Pieter-Steph Du Toit, Willem Alberts, Rudy Paige, Morne Steyn, Jan Serfontein

The History

The U.S. and South Africa have played three times, all South Africa victories. The last meeting came back in 2007 at the World Cup where South Africa won 64-15 although that match was memorable for this try:

The previous match was in 2001 where South Africa beat the Eagles 43-20 in Houston in what at the time was one of the most well attended Eagles matches of all time. Before that they played a controversial match in 1981 with South Africa winning 38-7. It was controversial due to the fact that apartheid was still in effect in South Africa and the Springboks were shunned internationally.

The Key Match-up

Samu Manoa vs. Duane Vermeulen: Now this is going to be a fun one to watch. Manoa is a world class player and is the only player that would likely be courted to Tier I teams if that was possible. He's had a monster World Cup so far. 

The Keys to the Match

Defense: It should be said first off that if the Eagles even want to dream of winning this match that they have to play a flawless match and hope that South Africa implodes. It's highly unlikely but if it happens it will start with defense. Frustrating South Africa will be a major goal.

Scrum: It might not matter in the end but a strong showing in the scrum (i.e. not giving up a penalty try in this case) will be a positive.

Kicking: This is a part of the game the Eagles can control. They can make their penalties and conversions (Niua will likely kick) and they need to be better kicking from hand. 

The Takeaway

The reality is that the Eagles felt that they had little choice in running out a reserve side. As long as they would have two matches schedule close together they felt they had to make that call. Unfortunately it means that they are likely in for what could be the biggest defeat of the World Cup so far. Let's hope it doesn't come to that. Still, there are areas in which the Eagles could feel good about themselves in the match if they play well. They will be looking for those positives no matter the result. 


  1. The one benefit of this match is that SA are playing a large number of their side on short rest. The Eagles need to really keep up the pace of the game and move the ball. There is no sense in an approach that is simply trying to do damage control.

    The back row is a strong one and they must lead the way. Out wide there is skill. While the Eagles need to play a game that limits scrums this is not a virgin team without the ability to move the ball. I am certain that these players knew that barring injury that many for many of them this would be their world cup.

    My guess is that Manoa and Barrett will be subbed off at the half.

    If the boys go out with a positive attitude and they have been preparing well for this match there is no reason to think that they cannot put in a more than credible performance.

    They need to come out with a degree of self belief and simply go for it. South Africa will want to put this game away early and the longer the Eagles can stay in it the heavier the 'boks legs will be.

    Give it a go boys. A win may not be in the cards but there is plenty to play for.

  2. Had we beaten Canda during the WC qualifier, we probably could have pulled out two wins (Italy and Romania) and automatic qualification for 2019. It's a shame that we didn't though.

  3. Shalom Suniula is at flyhalf not fullback