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Thursday, October 8, 2015

Who Will Start For The Eagles Against Japan?

The Eagles face only a short four day turnaround between their match against South Africa and their match against Japan. That means that any moment now we should learn who the Eagles will be trotting out against the Brave Blossoms. In many ways we can't really predict who is going to start against Japan without taking a look back at the rationale for the selections against South Africa.

Many fans were upset that head coach Mike Tolkin had picked an understrength side to face the Springboks. It was already likely to be a loss for the Eagles and with South Africa fielding a full strength side and the Eagles doing the opposite the scoreline ballooned to a record low. Some fans thought that the Eagles should have put out their first choice line-up because it doesn't matter if the Eagles beat Japan on Sunday, which is still very much up in the air, the record defeat against South Africa is what is going to stay in the minds of fans. We're not sure that is true (a win against Japan would draw more headlines) but it's a fair point.

Take the jump to read more.
What the coaching staff and defenders of the selections will say is that the plan all along was to rotate the squad between these two matches with the more experienced team playing Japan targeting a win. It would have taken an upset of epic proportion for the Eagles to beat the Springboks even with a full strength side so it was better to save them for matches against Samoa, Scotland, and Japan. It's not any different to the strategy used by Eddie O'Sullivan four years ago when he ran out his top side against Russia, Ireland, and Italy while using reserves against Australia. That match finished 63-7, not much different than Wednesday's loss. The difference in that match was that Australia used mostly reserves as well. South Africa's shock loss to Japan meant that couldn't happen against the Eagles.

It was obvious to most observers and followers of the team when the schedule came out that the U.S. were going to play the subs against South Africa. If the script had gone according to plan the Springboks would have done the same. The U.S. was never going to win the pool and they had to win three matches if they wanted to make the quarterfinals. It was much more realistic to target wins against the other three teams. Every team at the tournament has used squad rotation. Scotland changed ten players to face the Eagles. Other teams have done the same. As long as countries are playing matches days apart rotation is going to happen. It just so happens that squad rotation like that impacts Tier II countries more simply because they don't have the same depth.

Could the U.S. starters go head to head with Tier I countries? They've proven that at least for a half so far this year. The problem is of course that all the players on the roster don't have the match experience of the professionalization of other teams. The Eagles may be used to playing the Samoa's, Tonga's, and Canada's of the world but they don't have as much experience playing 80 minutes at the same level as the Springboks, Scotland, or Australia. In each of those matches fatigue showed through in the second half.

But enough of that. On to the predictions.

Prop: Eric Fry and Titi Lamositele

Like most of the positions on the team this one is pretty clear. Fry and Lamositele are the first choice players and it was evident they were being saved by either not being on the 23-man roster against South Africa (Fry) or making the roster and not playing (Lamositele). Ollie Kilifi and Chris Baumann look set to be the back-ups once again. Mate Moeakiola might have put his name in the conversation as a possible replacement.

Hooker: Zach Fenoglio

Fenoglio didn't have the best first match at the World Cup but Thiel didn't do much better against Scotland. The fact that Thiel started against South Africa means that Fenoglio should start here.

Lock: Cam Dolan and Greg Peterson

Cam Dolan deserved to start at some point and when think it's against Japan. It's just a hunch and this could be completely inaccurate but Hayden Smith has had some injuries all summer and he could be out as a result with Dolan stepping in. The switch could also be made for other reasons. It could also be Dolan and Smith starting. Still, we think that Dolan and Peterson will start with Smith as a reserve.

Back-row: Danny Barrett, Andrew Durutalo, Samu Manoa

Manoa may sit due to his starting against South Africa but we doubt it. He is simply too valuable not to put on the roster and plus, his fitness shows he can handle anything. Barrett played well against South Africa and we think he gets a crack over Al McFarland. Having come off the bench in two of three matches Barrett should be fresh. We also think Andrew Durutalo returns to the line-up. Don't be surprised if McFarland and John Quill are on the bench.

Scrumhalf: Mike Petri

Niku Kruger got a run out to spell Mike Petri who didn't come off the bench against South Africa. He'll now likely be out of the 23 while Petri resumes his starting spot with Shalom Suniula as back-up at scrumhalf and fly-half.

Fly-half: AJ MacGinty

Fly-half is MacGinty's to lose for the foreseeable future. He'll need to have a big game against Japan.

Center: Seamus Kelly and Thretton Palamo

Both Kelly and Palamo were not in the line-up against South Africa and will almost certainly start against Japan. Look for Folau Niua to be not only the back up for the centers but other back positions as well.

Wing: Chris Wyles and Taku Ngwenya

Wyles played against South Africa but being the good solider that he is will start against Japan. He wants a win as badly as anyone so nothing will keep him out of the line-up. Ngwenya should return as well.

Fullback: Blaine Scully

He came back on after his big collision with Bryan Habana and will be ready to go against Japan.

Bench: Phil Thiel, Ollie Kilifi, Chris Baumann, Hayden Smith, Al McFarland, Shalom Suniula, Folau Niua, Brett Thompson


  1. It depends how you look at this world cup. I think it would have been better to expose USA's top players to SA 1st team. This would have been more beneficial in the long run giving the top guys true international experience they need. To gamble it all on Japan means a potential no world cup win and also the team that suffered the biggest defeat at the world cup. That's won't do much to develop the game further in the US.

    No doubt the first half against Japan will be close. It is the second half that will worry me and Tolkin hasn't shown much progress in this area - how to approach a second half in a different way.

  2. At the end of the day World Cup success is measured by wins and losses. Not by whether or not you can lose to the Springboks by 64 or 44. Make no mistake, the Eagle starting XV were not going to win against the Springboks. They would have made it more respectable perhaps but a heavy loss was always on the books. And the Eagles would have then had a 4 day turnaround against Japan. There is little doubt that the short turnarounds favor the more established nations whose players are in high performance situations 12 months a year.

    Despite the scoreline there was still some value in the match against the Springboks. Blooding Kruger in a highly intense situation will pay dividends in the future. It is clear that the Eagles need to find and groom several more fly halves. Given his brief but active performance perhaps this fellow Taufetee has something to give in the future. He was a bit of a live wire for a big fellow.

    Has this World Cup been a huge disappointment? Yes. Has it exposed the coaching staff, particularly Tolkin. Absolutely. The inability to find half time adjustments against Samoa and to be so utterly unprepared for what was coming at them against Scotland (and to a degree South Africa) falls squarely on the shoulders of the coaching staff and particularly Tolkin.

    But there is a small measure of salvation in being able to beat tournament fan favorites; Japan. At the end of the day this was always the targeted match and the Eagles find themselves pretty much where they would have expected to be. Now it is time for them to perform for a full 80 minutes.