Saturday, June 25, 2016

Preview: Victory Expected As Eagles Play Russia

The Eagles will look to close out their Summer Series with a win tonight as they take on Russia at Bonney Field in Sacramento. Despite their loss to Italy last week in San Jose the Eagles actually come into the match with a bit of momentum. They were able to take Italy to the wire and arguably should have won that match. They were able to come back from the break and get key contributions from players like AJ MacGinty as well as were able to integrate new players like Tony Lamborn. However, none of that will mean anything unless they are able to beat Russia.

Russia coming off a European Nations Cup season in which they finished third with a 3-2 record. They recorded wins over Spain, Portugal, and Germany while losing big to both Georgia and Romania. Those results are no big surprise and Georgia and Romania have been top dogs for awhile but it does illustrate that Russia still have glimpses of the talent that took them to the World Cup. Most recently, Russia were in Calgary where they lost to a focused Canada side 46-21. Russia showed moments in the match but weren't always convincing.

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A major factor for both teams heading into the match is going to be the heat. The temperatures in Sacramento are expected to be around 95 degrees Fahrenheit and kickoff and will only cool about ten degrees by the end of the match. If there is a silver lining it's that 95 sounds a lot better than then 100 plus it's supposed to be during the day. Each side has been training in Sacramento this week so they should be somewhat adjusted.

The match starts at 10:00 p.m. et/7:00 p.m. pt and can be seen live on The Rugby Channel. It will are CBS Sports Network the next day.

The Team

Eagles head coach John Mitchell has elected to only make the changes he was forced to make from the team that played Italy with everyone else keeping their spot. Andrew Durutalo headed off to Chula Vista and 7s duty leaving a gap that will be filled by Tony Lamborn. The Hurricanes player came on as a sub for Greg Peterson last week and did well on his debut. Now with even more time with his new team he should be more settled. Starting alongside Lamborn in the back-row is soon to be new Eagles cap leader Todd Clever and Cam Dolan. Dolan has switched down into the locks last week when Peterson went down but this week Peterson's spot is taken by James King who will pair with Nate Brakeley. Titi Lamositele, James Hilterbrand, and Chris Baumann are the front row.

The only change in the backs is Mikey Te'o coming in for the injured Taku Ngwenya. This backs group saw some success against Italy last week but they still would have liked to have more scoring chances. Nate Augspurger is once again a player to watch as he grows more comfortable while AJ MacGinty continues to show his class. Of course one of the main wrinkles to continue to watch in the backs is employing Shalom Suniula as a playmaking center.

Forwards: Titi Lamositele, James Hilterbrand, Chris Baumann, Nate Brakeley, James King, Tony Lamborn, Todd Clever, Cam Dolan

Backs: Nate Augspurger, AJ MacGinty, Blaine Scully, Shalom Suniula, Thretton Palamo, Mike Te'o, Will Holder

Bench: Joe Taufete'e, Ben Tarr, Angus MacLellan, Harry Higgins, Langilangi Haupeakui, Steve Tomasin, Chad London, Luke Hume

The Opponents

Russia are fielding an entirely domestic side. However, that shouldn't be a reason to dismiss them. Many of their players play with Enisei who have experience playing in the European Challenge Cup. Other players play with big clubs like VVA Saracens. They also have several players that have been on the books of clubs, like Vasily Artemyev who played for Newcastle.

Overall, Russia are bringing a very experienced team. Their entire front-row has more than 45 caps a piece and four of their players have 50 plus caps. The likes of Victor Gresev and Yuri Kushnarev have been around for a lot time and played against the Eagles in the World Cup in 2011. That said, there are some younger players on the roster, including debutante Igor Golosnitsky in the centers.

Forwards: Alexei Volkov (45), Evgeni Mateev (46), Evgeni Pronenko (46), Andrei Garbuzov (76), Denis Antonov (27), Victor Gresev (80), Pavel Butenko (39), Anton Rudoy (6)

Backs: Armyn?, Yuri Kushnarev (80), Vasily Artemyev (63), Igor Golosnitsky (0), Dimitry Gerasimov (36), Denis Simplikevich (), Rama?

Bench: Nazir Gasanov (10), Azamat Bitiev (5), Vladimir Podrezov (7), Evgeny Yolgin (5), Danila Chegodaev (5), Alexi Shcherban (31), Evgeni Kolomiitsev (3), Anton Ryabov (18)

The History

The U.S. and Russia have played six times with three of those times coming recently. The U.S. has won all six meetings. The most recent match was in London in 2013 where the Eagles won 28-7. The year before that during the November tests the U.S. won 40-26 in Colwyn Bay. The U.S. of course won in the World Cup 13-6.

The Keys to the Match

Tries, Tries, Tries: The Eagles needed at least three tries to beat Italy last week and only got two. They have the potential to score but sometimes aren't able to turn the screws in at the end and finish. They need to pour it on against Russia. If there is anything to be learned for Canada's win last week it's that Russia are vulnerable on defense. They should be as tight as Italy and that should give the Eagles backs the chance to run. 

Defense/Breakdown: Even though they lost last week there was a lot to like about the Eagles defense. They need to pride themselves in limited Russia. One are in which they could improve is arriving to the breakdown in a timely manner. That was targeted after last week's match as something that needed to be fixed. 

Scrum: We talk about it every time but once again the Eagles were hurt by their scrum last week. They should fair better against Russia but it's not guarantee. They must not give up penalties in the scrum. 

The Takeaway

The needs to be an Eagles win, not just should be an Eagles win. With only two matches this summer series time is short for head coach John Mitchell to get his players on the same page and to instill in them what he wants them to do. Camp time is great but they need playing time to implement his style. Italy was a tough match last week but they should have more reign to challenge Russia this week. Look for them to get their backs involved early in often in which should be a match with a lot of tries for the Eagles. 

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