Saturday, February 6, 2016

Preview: Eagles Open Up ARC Against Argentina

The Eagles start their inaugural Americas Rugby Championship campaign against what should be their most difficult opponent of the competition--Argentina. While winning is always the goal heading into a tournament and a match there is a lot more on the line for the Eagles. Not only is it their first match in a new World Cup cycle, it's also the first match for new head coach John Mitchell and a bunch of new players. That would be tricky enough but they are heading into a match that features a bunch of Argentinian players that have starred on the youth level and are looking to make a breakthrough into the Pumas or the Argentina Super Rugby side.

With all that in mind the expectations for the match have to be adjusted. Again, winning is the goal and with several European stars called into the match the Eagles have a much better shot of winning than they would have otherwise. That said, there are a lot of new faces. If the Eagles can do the basics well--cut down on errors, have a strong set piece, build off last year's work--than the match has to be considered a success no matter the outcome.

Also of note, this is a non-cap match. Argentina can only lose points in the tournament so it was thought that it would be more fair if every match against Argentina was a non-cap match. The other four matches in the tournament for the Eagles. do count toward the World Rugby rankings.

Take the jump to read more.
The Team

Mitchell has gone with a mixed side for the match. Blaine Scully will captain the team and he'll join veterans like Eric Fry, Greg Peterson, Cam Dolan Todd Clever, and Taku Ngwenya on the roster. They will be called upon to do a lot of the heavy lifting and are in strong positions to do so. Other players with caps to their name on the team include Joe Taufete'e, Chris Baumann, and Niku Kruger, all of whom were on the World Cup team. Glendale's Chad London also has a cap to his name.

The rest of the team is made up of new players. Brodie Orth has reportedly been looking good in camp and will pair with Peterson in the locks. David (Tevita) Tameilau is a player that a lot of folks have had their eye on this last year and could be the breakout star of the tournament. James Bird will start at fly-half while Kingsley McGowan and Lemoto Filikitonga will also start. All three players will have strong expectations upon them.

Overall, the team has real threats in the deep three and London and Filikitonga are more than capable at the centers. Kruger and Bird could also be a solid combination. The back-row is a strength but aside from Fry there are questions in the front-row. Against a different opponent there might not be as many concerns but they are going up against and Argentina side that consistently has a solid pack. If the U.S. can stay even in that department they should be happy.

Forwards: Eric Fry, Joe Taufete'e, Chris Baumann, Brodie Orth, Greg Peterson, Cam Dolan, Todd Clever, David Tameilau

Backs: Niku Kruger, James Bird, Kingsley McGowan, Lemoto Filikitonga, Chad London, Taku Ngwenya, Blaine Scully

Bench: Mike Sosene-Feagai, Ollie Kilifi, James Hilterbrand, Ben Landry, Alec Gletzer, JP Eloff, Mike Te'o, Jake Anderson 

The Opponents

The main feature of this Argentina team is that they are pretty young. Only two players in the forward are over the age of 22 and Marcos Kremer is only 18. Most players are either uncapped or have only a few caps to their name. Two players are a member of the Argentina Super Rugby team. However, don't let age make you think they are inexperienced. Many of these players have played at the age-grade level on some very successful teams. They are going to be solid in the scrum and they have the backs to make players.

Argentina is at a point we they really shouldn't be considered a development side. Any player that comes out of Argentina is going to have the same pedigree as a player that comes out of Europe. This should be considered the equivalent (if not better) than France  or England 'A.'

Forwards: Roberto Tajerizo, Santiago Iglesias, Felipe Arregui, Marcos Kremer, Ignacio Larrague, Rodrigo Baez (C), Lautaro Bavaro, Santiago Montagner

Backs: Gonzale Bertranou, Domingo Miotti, Tomas Carrio, Joaquin Paz, Juan Cappiello, Matias Orlando, Ramiro Moyano

Bench: Franco Brarda, Gaspar Baldunciel, Cristian Bartolini, Pedro Ortega, Jose Deheza, Lautaro Bazan Velez, Juan Novillo, Juan Pablo Estelles

Keys to the Match

Scrum: The scrum is going to be so key in this match. The Eagles scrum has made leaps and bounds over the last year. Fry especially has come on well. However, if they start to leak against a solid Argentina team they are going to find themselves giving up penalties and points. They absolutely must avoid having a man sent to the bin.

Kicking: Argentina are a very good kicking side. They are going to take the points early and then if they feel comfortable go for match-sealing tries. The U.S. needs to match them at every level. It's going to be interesting to see if Kruger or Bird take the kicking duties.

Penalties: Again, another simple task but that's what this match is all about for the Eagles. They need to get the basics down, like not giving up penalties, to be successful. They can build off from there.

The Takeaway

Even with their European players most would say that the U.S. is not favored in this match. Argentina are a really good side and they players they are bringing are world class. That said, it's not as if the Eagles are big underdogs. Having the likes of Ngwenya and Scully is huge and it's going to put them in this match. If they can avoid penalties and use a strong kicking game they have a chance at winning.

The match is set for 8:00 p.m. et/5:00 p.m. pt and is available on ESPN3/WatchESPN. 

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