Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Who Will Start For The Eagles Against Italy?

The Eagles begin their Summer Series in just a few days against Italy at Avaya Stadium. While the team has had five matches under new head coach John Mitchell this is the first time he's had the opportunity to pick his own players for the most part and it will be the first time he'll have a chance to go up against a Tier I nation. Even during the ARC Mitchell showed that he's willing to shake things up in the name of results. That was evident once again when the likes of Brodie Orth, Shaun Davies, and Ollie Kilifi were all released from camp earlier in the week.

Put it all together and it might make it difficult to guess as to who is going to start against Italy but we're going to take a guess anyways. Overall, the team is missing veterans like Eric Fry, Samu Manoa (still with Toulon), Chris Wyles and Scott LaValla (retired), and a host of 7s players, but there still are enough key players to create a solid spine. Who fills in and puts their hand up as major players is going to be the bigger question.

Take the jump to read more.
Prop: Titi Lamositele, Angus MacLellan, Chris Baumann, Ben Tarr

With Eric Fry and Ollie Kilifi gone the Eagles are missing two of their top three props from the last couple of years. That leaves Titi Lamositele as the undisputed leader of the prop group and he's going to be counted on to do a lot these next two matches. He is an automatic starter. The question will be whether Chris Baumann, Angus MacLellan, or Ben Tarr join him? Given his form this season we're going to go with MacLellan. He has been outstanding and deserves his shot at the big time. Chris Baumann has come back from injury and has done well but at this level coming off that injury he might be better as a super sub. It may also be a case where a player like Joe Taufete'e moves from hooker to prop.

Hooker: James Hilterbrand

Mitchell has Tom Coolican, James Hilterbrand, and Joe Taufete'e at his disposal. As mentioned above, a player like Taufete'e may be used at prop but at least two of these players are going to be on the game day roster. Coolican and Taufete'e have had their injuries this year while Hilterbrand has been playing well enough to get a look from the Waratahs this year. We're going with him with Taufete'e as the back-up to add some versatility.

Lock: Greg Peterson, Cam Dolan

Lock is a position which we could see a player start that could also play in the back-row. Greg Peterson had a tremendous year for Glasgow. It would be a shock to see him not in the starting line-up. If Samu Manoa were available he and Peterson would make the top choice pairing but he's gone. Nate Brakeley played in the ARC and did well. James King has also played a fair bit of lock and could be a candidate to start. Todd Clever has played lock in the past as has Cam Dolan. Of those players we think that Dolan might be edged out in the back-row but is too valuable to leave off the starting sheet so we'll put him at lock. That said, King starting also wouldn't be a shock. Either way he should be on the bench for his versatility.

Back-row: Tony Lamborn, Andrew Durutalo, Todd Clever

In some ways picking the back-row is difficult due to depth but when you look at the names available three easily stand out: Tony Lamborn, Andrew Durutalo, and Todd Clever. You can't say enough about the year Durutalo had with the Sunwolves. He is a Super Rugby player and is an automatic starter for the Eagles. Lamborn has just come into the U.S. team but is also a Super Rugby player that was named the MVP of his winning ITM Cup team. Clever didn't have his greatest year club wise but he always turns out for the Eagles. Harry Higgins should get some time as a back-up but he could be squeezed out due to numbers.

Scrumhalf: Nate Augspurger, Mike Te'o

The battle for scrumhalf is going to be fierce. Both Shalom Suniula and Mike Te'o have see time at the position in the recent past. Te'o did alright during the ARC but is probably a better fit for fullback. Augspurger may have played mostly 7s over the last year and it's easy to forget his time with Old Blue but if you ask any of his coaches in New York they will tell you they thought he was the best scrumhalf in the country. We think he gets the nod.

Fly-half: AJ MacGinty

AJ MacGinty. End of list. Just kidding but also not. Everyone knows about MacGinty's season with Connacht but it all began with a strong showing for the Eagles in the World Cup. He starts. The question for fly-half is whether or not there is enough room on the bench for James Bird.

Center: Chad London, Thretton Palamo

Looking at the potential center names available it looks like Chad London and Thretton Palamo probably have the inside track to start. London has come on very strong over the last year and was one of the better Eagles during the ARC. Palamo has been playing 7s but was a big part of the Eagles World Cup team. Seth Halliman could shake things but either in the centers but probably more on the wing.

Wing: Blaine Scully, Taku Ngwenya

The choices here boil down to pretty much Blaine Scully, Taku Ngwenya, Luke Hume, and a player like Halliman, Steve Tomasin, or Peter Tiberio. Scully is a starter. Period. In a battle between Ngwenya and Hume we're going to go with Ngwenya simply based on experience. Having Hume come off the bench is a great option.

Fullback: Will Holder

It wouldn't shock us to see a player like Scully slide back to fullback or a player like Hume or Te'o. However, we think that Will Holder starts here against Italy. Holder has found a groove with the 7s team and provides a great presence in the air. He also had an educated boot that could be a back-up to MacGinty if he gets hurt.

So here are our (almost certainly wrong) guesses:

Forwards: Lamositele, Hilterbrand, MacLellan, Peterson, Dolan, Lamborn, Durutalo, Clever

Backs: Augspurger, MacGinty, Ngwenya, London, Palamo, Scully, Holder

Bench: Baumann, Tarr, Taufete'e, King, Brakeley, Halliman, Hume, Te'o


  1. I don't see Holder starting over Scully against Italy. The back 3 should be Hume, Ngwenya, and Scully, with Teo and Holder as subs. I honestly don't know that I would start Holder over Two at fullback either. It will certainly be interesting.

  2. Nothing against Augspurger but as a 7's player why is he slotted ahead of Madison Hughes? Haven't seen much of either in 15's the past couple of years but it seems Hughes is the better all around player and has experience as a scrumhalf. Was he not available for the tests or just not picked?

  3. Hume is so dangerous, he needs to start. I like Scully better at wing than fullback. This is where we miss Wyles. I like Teo as fullback more than Holder.

    What has happened to Seamus Kelly?

  4. Any comment on the fact that Roland Suniula appears to be in San Diego since early last week? And with the Eagles camp?

    And on Hughes. Not only is he not available, but he almost always played fullback in 15s. Even if he projects to a 9, it will take him time to adjust.

    1. I agree that he will need time to adjust, but I can see his playmaker role, he is the scrumhalf, from the sevens team allowing him to make that transition. He is very smart with the ball, would be great around the fringes, should be an excellent communicator (especially organizing the defense), and definitely has the pass and boot for a 9. He needs match time, certainly, so let's hope we see him playing 15s during the fall tour or during the ARC.