Friday, November 11, 2016

Preview: Eagles Need To Beat Romania

The Eagles will move the November portion of their schedule to Europe tomorrow as they take on Romania in Bucharest. The matches in Europe against Romania and Tonga have special meaning because they count in the World Rugby rankings. if the U.S. can keep their advantage over Canada in the rankings then they will host the second leg of their qualifying series next year. Given history the Eagles best chance of picking up a victory will come against Romania. They have had the better of the Oaks over the last few years but it's never a guaranteed match, especially playing in Bucharest.

John Mitchell has the advantage of having his European stars like Blaine Scully and Samu Manoa back for the match. Cam Dolan and Taku Ngwenya were also seemingly available but for some reason are not in the line-up. We don't know if it's injuries or what but it seems odd that they aren't selected. It's also interesting that the likes of Samu Manoa find themselves on the bench rather than in the starting position. Our only guess as to why this may be is that the Eagles have struggled off the bench in matches and bringing in Eric Fry, Manoa, and Langilangi Haupeakui might cause a spark.

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The team is coming off a disappointing performance against the Maori All Blacks. However, hidden in that performance is that they did some things well that they might be able to better employ against Romania. Additionally, having a match under their belts as well as the APC should have them with more cohesion than they normally would have. Still, it's hard to necessarily call them favorites. If their scrum doesn't perform then they are going to go down. If the scrum works, they then could run out to a big win.

The match starts on Saturday at 11:00 a.m. et/8:00 a.m. pt and will be on The Rugby Channel.

The Team

As mentioned, the Eagles have made a number of changes to their line-up. They have kept many of the same starters from last week, including the lock pairing of Nate Brakeley and Nick Civetta. That is somewhat surprising given that Manoa was available. One of the things we're watching this week is how the halfbacks pairing of Nate Augspurger and Will Holder do. If they can maintain a steady ship and feed the likes of Martin Iosefo and Blaine Scully the Eagles will have a good day. We think Iosefo in particular could be due for a breakout performance.

Forwards: Titi Lamositele, Joe Taufete'e, Chris Baumann, Nate Brakeley, Nick Civetta, Al McFarland, Todd Clever (C), Andrew Durutalo

Backs: Nate Augspurger, Will Holder, Martin Iosefo, Bryce Campbell, Thretton Palamo, Blaine Scully, Madison Hughes

Bench: James Hilterbrand, Eric Fry, Dino Waldren, Samu Manoa, Langilangi Haupeakui, Steve Tomasin, JP Eloff, Matai Leuta

The Opponents

Romania have nearly an entirely domestic squad that is a big mix of very experienced players and newcomers. Most players either have more than 50 caps or they have less than ten. One of the most experienced players is Mihai Lazar who plays prop for Castres. He's joining up with Alex Tarus who plays with Beziers. Most of the players for Romania that play in France are in the forwards which has always been their strength. Where they have had weakness in the past is in their backs. They tried to strengthen that and they have the likes of Florin Vlaicu and Catalin Fercu playing but it's a weakness the Eagles might be able to exploit.

Forwards: Mihai Lazar, Eugen Capatana, Alex Tarus, Johan van Heerden, Marius Antonescu, Vasile Rus, Viorel Lucaci, Stelian Burcea (C)

Backs: Florin Surugiu, Jody Rose, Ionut Dumitru, Florin Vlaicu, Jack Umaga, Fonovai Tangimana, Catalin Fercu

Bench: Andrei Radoi, Ionel Badiu, Alex Gordas, Valentin Poparfan, Andrei Gorcioaia, Valentin Calafeteanu, Florin Popa, Stephen Shennan

Keys to the Match

Use Speed: The Romanians can be beaten, and have been beaten in the past, by out pacing them. The U.S. must get the ball out quickly where Blaine Scully, Martin Iosefo, and Madison Hughes can speed down the pitch. The signs that the Eagles were doing that against the Maori All Blacks were there but that the MABs defense was too good. They should find more gaps against Romania.

Scrum: In order to even give themselves a chance to use their backs the Eagles have to at least be even with Romania in the scrum. Having Eric Fry as an option off the bench will help but they can't concede any penalties otherwise it might be a long game.

Kicking: Once again it's a topic that needs to be discussed. With AJ MacGinty not in the line-up and the likes of James Bird not on the roster it's going to fall to either Will Holder or Madison Hughes to do the kicking. We think it'll be Hughes and that might be a good thing. Work at the breakdown should give the Eagles penalty chances which they need to hit.

Bench: As mentioned above the Eagles line-up is almost seemingly set to have an impact off the bench. If it's close late and the U.S. can bring on Samu Manoa and Langilangi Haupeakui that could turn the match.

The Takeaway

This is a match the Eagles need to win. Not only from a rankings perspective so they can keep the advantage against Canada in the summer but also from a momentum perspective. They have done some things well over the summer and overall under Mitchell's reign. However, the honeymoon period is about over and if they can't get a result against Romania, a team they've beaten regularly, then the warning bells will go off. We don't think it gets to that point and the Eagles win but the pressure is on.


  1. Surprised to see Hughes getting the start at 15 in his first-ever Eagles appearance. I thought Scully or Eloff would be a safer choice there.

    1. He had a brief appearance against the Maori and did more with three touches of the ball than T'eo did in the balance of the match. If he sticks with 15's he could be a difference maker. Good selection.