We're just days away from the Eagles kicking off their 2017 Americas Rugby Championship campaign. Like last year there is going to be some mixing and matching of who's available for each match. 26 players will be available at a time and head coach John Mitchell has tried to create balance but some matches have more options than others. For the Uruguay match he arguably has the most options with some of his top European players available. We though we'd take a look at who we think will start.
Prop: Chris Baumann, Tony Purpura, Ben Tarr, Alex Maughan, Dino Waldren
Five players are available at prop with only four spots so someone is going to miss out. Chris Baumann should all but be guaranteed to start. The bigger question is who starts alongside him. Ben Tarr is a target. He's had some success before and could get the nod. Alex Maughan and Dino Waldren have also had some experience with the Eagles recently which we think is an indicator that they might be involved as well. For us, Tony Purpura is the wildcard. It's been a long-time since he's been in camp and he's available for all five matches so maybe he gets a chance later. We think it's Baumann, Tarr, Maughan, and Waldren.
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Hooker: James Hilterbrand, Peter Malcolm
James Hilterbrand is the only experienced hooker on the roster so it's all but automatic that he is going to start. Peter Malcolm has played hooker before and is being groomed for the position so it makes sense he's the back-up. He can also fill in on the back-row if needed.
Lock: Matt Jensen, Nick Civetta, Nate Brakeley
Two of these three with start. Given that Civetta and Brakeley were a favored combination in the fall that seems likely again. Jensen was a late call into the team filling in for the injured Siaosi Mahoni. He'll be on the bench.
Back-row: Todd Clever, Tony Lamborn, Al McFarland, John Quill
Similar story here to other forward positions. Todd Clever will likely start but he didn't have the greatest fall so maybe that opens the door for someone else. Tony Lamborn has been a favorite of Mitchell, for good reason, so he starts too. If Clever starts then it becomes who out of Al McFarland and John Quill gets the nod. If Clever is the No. 8 then it could be either one. If he's a flanker than McFarland will be the No. 8.
Scrumhalf: Nate Augspurger, Shaun Davies
We genuinely don't know and as we've said this is going to be one of the most fun battles to watch. On initial impression we're going to go with Nate Augspurger based on his play during the fall but it's very hard to forget the PRO Rugby season Shaun Davies had.
Fly-half: AJ MacGinty, Ben Cima, Will Magie
Yeah, this is going to be AJ MacGinty. He's only available for the Uruguay match so why bring him off the bench. Whether it's Ben Cima or Will Magie that is the back-up will tell a a lot. It's a toss-up. If there is an outside factor it's that Magie can play fullback.
Center: Bryce Campbell, Ryan Matyas, JP Eloff, Spike Davis
For us this is one of the positions we generally have no clue. Bryce Campbell is the only one with real experience with the Eagles. Ryan Matyas can play center and with the options presented that seems likely again. JP Eloff and Spike Davis can also play in the centers. If Mitchell wants to go with a basher than Davis is the guy but if he wants a second playmaker than Eloff makes sense.
Wing: Blaine Scully, Zack Test, Spike Davis, Mike Te'o, Ryan Matyas
Like MacGinty, Blaine Scully is only available for the Uruguay match so there is no way he doesn't start. Davis makes sense given his PRO Rugby season but he's still green and might be a better option off the bench. We think it's going to be Zack Test. He's had a gap since the Olympics so he should be hungry. Additionally, he played on the wing at the World Cup.
Fullback: Mike Te'o, Blaine Scully, Zack Test
This could be Scully but he's been entrenched at the wing. Test could be a surprise option here especially if Mikey Te'o is used as a utility option off the bench. Te'o could also start.
So here's who we have starting:
1. Dino Waldren
2. James Hilterbrand
3. Chris Baumann
4. Nate Brakeley
5. Nick Civetta
6. Tony Lamborn
7. Al McFarland
8. Todd Clever
9. Nate Augspurger
10. AJ MacGinty
11. Spike Davis
12. JP Eloff
13. Bryce Campbell
14. Blaine Scully
15. Zack Test
16. Peter Malcolm
17. Ben Tarr
18. Alex Maughan
19. Matt Jensen
20. John Quill
21. Shaun Davies
22. Will Magie
23. Mike Te'o