Friday, February 19, 2016

Preview: U.S. Ready For Chile Challenge

Heading into the ARC the the Eagles biggest challenges were always going to be Argentina and Canada. They've passed both of those tests with a draw and a win respectively and now they get a chance to take on competition they normally wouldn't get to face, beginning with Chile in Florida tomorrow.

This is a match the Eagles are expected to win easily. Yes, they only have Eric Fry and Todd Clever in their line-up as overseas professionals and do have a group of young players on the roster but the overall depth of the U.S. is greater than Chile and they should put up a big score. To give you some perspective, Argentina beat Chile 52-12 last week. The Eagles will be expected to put up a similar score.

Even though the U.S. should beat Chile easily that doesn't mean there aren't important goals to reach in the match. First, the U.S. needs to continue to learn to not play to the level of their opponents but to achieve the same level of play in every match. Players can't take Chile for granted, they have to face Chile like they are facing any other nation.

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Further, this is about building depth. All of the younger players in the Eagles squad have experience either at the top club or college level. However, international rugby is a different beast all together and being able to get game time in a match that you should win allows players to get a taste of international play while also seeing results. It's players like Tom Bliss, Lorenzo Thomas, and Ben Landry, all young players that are expected to be big parts of the run up to the next World Cup that need to come up big against Chile.

The Team

With injuries and some players returning to their clubs head coach John Mitchell has had to make some changes to his starting line-up. In the forwards the only change is Joe Taufete'e coming on for Mike Sosene-Feagai who now moves to the bench. The rest of the forwards stays the same and should have the power to beat Chile.

There are more changes in the backs. Tom Bliss and JP Eloff will be the new halfback pairing. Bliss is fighting with Niku Kruger and Mike Te'o as a potential permanent starter in place of the retired Mike Petri. Eloff is fighting with James Bird and others to be AJ MacGinty's back-up. Another change in the backs sees Lorenzo Thomas come in at center with both Mike Garrity and Moto Filikitonga injured. Thomas as outstanding for the U-20s last weekend.

Overall, the team has the pace and power to beat Chile. The forward had sometimes a difficult outing against Canada but they should be able to step it up against Chile. The backs should also have more room to run.

Forwards: Eric Fry, Joe Taufete'e, Chris Baumann, Ben Landry, Brodie Orth, Nate Brakeley, Todd Clever, David Tameilau

Backs: Tom Bliss, JP Eloff, Nic Edwards, Chad London, Lorenzo Thomas, Luke Hume, Mike Te'o

Bench: Mike Sosene-Feagai, Ollie Kilifi, Demecus Beach, Alec Gletzer, Patrick Blair, Niku Kruger, Ryan Matyas, Jake Anderson

The Opposition

Chile come into the match as definite underdogs but have some history behind them to think they have a shot. The U.S. and Chile have only played twice, both times as part of qualifying for the 2003 World Cup. Both teams split the matches with each win coming at home. Now, the U.S. team is better than in 2003 and Chile have regressed since then but that match from over a decade ago shows that in rugby things can be close.

The team has mostly played South American competition where they have consistently been beaten soundly by Argentina and Uruguay. They have had more success against the likes of Brazil and Paraguay. They've also hosted an occasion European team like Spain or Portugal to mixed success.

One player to watch out for on the team is Matías Nordenflycht. He's got a great boot and can hurt the Eagles if they give up too many penalties.

Forwards: Claudio Zamorano, Tomás Dussaillaint, Luis Sepúlveda, Felipe Bassaletti, Raimundo Piwonka, Ignacio Silva, Javier Richard, Benjamín Soto (C)

Backs: Beltrán Vergara, Cristian Onetto, Humberto Chacaltana, Francisco de la Fuente, Matías Nordenflycht, Matías Contreras, Pablo Casas.

Bench: Rodrigo Moya, Iñaki Gurruchaga, José Tomás Munita, Cristobal Niedmann, Nikola Bursic, Matthieu Manas, José Ignacio Larenas, Leonardo Montoya.

Keys to the Match

Intensity: As we mentioned above, after two games against what should be their toughest competition of the tournament there could be a mental tendency to relax against Chile. This group can't do that. No one's place outside of maybe Fry is confirmed. If players can't be focused and ready to play against Chile then how can they be expected to step up against more difficult opposition.

Scrum: The Eagles had a step backward at times in the scrum against Canada. Chile won't be lightweights in the scrum but the U.S. should be able to dominate.

Score: Over the last year the U.S. hasn't had as much difficulty scoring as they have in the past but they haven't had a "blowout" game in a long time. This could be that game. If they can run in over 50 points it will be a good match.

The Takeaway

Again, this is a match the Eagles should win handily. It wouldn't be a bad thing if Chile gave them a match but only if that's Chile playing up to the Eagles level and not vice versa. This is a perfect match to get young players more matches. There is a gap for many players between the age-grade sides and the Eagles and the ARC, along with PRO Rugby, is going to help fill that. All in all, it should be a solid match for the Eagles.

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