Friday, November 11, 2016

Analysis: How The Eagles Can Beat Romania

By Derek Sagehorn

The Pershing Cup is at stake this Saturday as the USA Eagles meet Romania’s Might Oaks in Bucharest (11amET/8amPT). The trophy is named for General John Pershing, US Army commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in World War II and recipient of Romania’s Order of Michael the Brave (1st Class) for his efforts. The Eagles hold the Pershing Cup after defeating the Mighty Oaks in Bucharest 27-17 in 2014. To retain that trophy, the Eagles—especially the forwards—must dig deep.

Romania coach Lynn Howells has named an experience side to face the Eagles. It starts with Mihaita Lazar at loosehead prop. The Castres prop has grafted for the last four years in Southwest France. That Top 14 experience plus 51 caps for country could spell trouble for the American tighthead Chris Baumann. Hooker Marian Capatana and tighthead have less experience but 35 caps between the two of them. They are also members of the Timisoara Saracens (part of the Saracens global network like Seattle Saracens) along with six other starters. That familiarity should help the hosts, especially in defense. The relatively young Jody Rose, South African-trained flyhalf, directs traffic for Romania. He will have experience outside of him as Florin Vlaicu, owner of 90+ caps and scorer of 733 points, starts at inside center. Should the Americans give up penalties from their ten meter line and in, the Mighty Oaks will be well-positioned to capitalize at the posts or corner.

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Messrs. Lamositele, Taufete’e, and Baumann will be challenged early and often. The bookends did well enough packing down in the first quarter against the Maori All Blacks but yielded to substantial pressure afterwards. It is incumbent for the rest of the team to keep possession and minimize low-percentage passes to prevent the scrum from becoming a Romanian weapon. Getting go forward will be helped by the presence of blindside Al MacFarland and Andrew Durutalo, who has a penchant for turnovers.

Whatever possession the Eagles will have to turn into tries, not penalty kicks. This will require more composure and patience from halfbacks Nate Auspurger and Will Holder than last week. The Americans showed glimpses of what try-scoring opportunities can be created from dynamic phase play. Bryce Campbell and Thretton Palamo certainly offer kinetic impact. Last week several try-scoring opportunities were lost to the Eagles for a variety of reasons. Coach John Mitchell must hope Blaine Scully and Madison Hughes can finish on Saturday.

Some consternation has blossomed over the Samu Manoa’s place on the bench. Whether it is performance in camp, minor injury or orders from Mourad Boudjellal we cannot tell. But the Toulon Galactico and pride of Concord, California can add a 4th gear for the Eagles at halftime. The possibility of Manoa and Langilangi Haupeakui on the pitch together will have Jody Rose reaching for the rib protector.

Despite all of the American firepower, this game will be won or lost in the trenches. If the American start giving up ground in the scrum early, it will be a rout. If they hold the line and maneuver, the Pershing Cup may stay with the Eagles.

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