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Friday, June 16, 2017

Preview: Eagles To Be Tested Against Georgia

Photo: All World Photo

The Eagles will have their last tune-up before World Cup qualifying as they take on Georgia in Atlanta. On paper this should be a great match for the Eagles to judge their progression. There is no question that the Eagles have made improvement over the last couple of years capped off by their win at the Americas Rugby Championship. However, Georgia's improvement is even better. The nation nestled in the Caucus mountains has steadily been on the rise over the last ten years with success at the youth level translating into success at the World Cup. Georgia finished third in their pool in 2015 meaning that they automatically qualify for 2019.

The Georgians have always been known for their big forward packs and their ability to scrum. That has now been matches by increased skills and professionalism across the board. Most of their forwards play in the top divisions in Europe. Most of the rest of their team has high-level experience as well either in France, Russia, or in Georgia where the club game has reach another level. The Georgian players start playing when they are young, they are well coached, and they have developed excellent rugby brains that know when to make good decisions. They have done everything right so far to give themselves long-term success.

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Still, for all of that success they haven't been able to achieve much against the Eagles. The teams have played each other four times, all within the last ten years, with the U.S. winning three of them. The only match the U.S. didn't win was back in 2010 in Georgia in a match that went deep into stoppage time. Two of the wins by the U.S. have been relatively comfortable but the latest was a nail-bitter with Adam Siddall hitting a dramatic penalty to win the match in 2013. That match was nearly four years ago and Georgia have been improving ever since.

When you put it all together it's going to be a good challenge for the Eagles. The scrum is always an area closely watched and under Georgian pressure it's going to have even more scrutiny. If the U.S. forward pack can hold their own they are going to give their backs a chance to run. It's in the backs the U.S. can really make a difference. The combination of Shaun Davies, Will Magie, Nate Augspurger, AJ MacGinty, and Bryce Campbell looks like it could be a good one but it will only be effective if the U.S. don't collapse against the Georgian pack.

A win would also be a big boost heading into World Cup qualifying next week. Mitchell has elected to chop and change his starting line-up two weeks in a row and you get the feeling he still isn't settled on a starting group to tackle Canada. Add in their disappointing performance against Ireland last weekend and if the U.S. can't come away with a victory this weekend then they won't have any momentum going into qualifying and are unsure of their line-up. Given the amount of matches Mitchell has had to look at this group that is not a position you want to be in. On the flip side, a win and a line-up that looks potent then you feel ready for Canada.

The match starts at 7:00 p.m. et/4:00 p.m. pt and can be viewed on The Rugby Channel.

The Team

As mentioned Mitchell has changed around his starters. One the biggest changes in the backs where MacGinty slides to inside center with Magie starting at flyhalf. That's pretty much what we saw against Uruguay back in the ARC and it worked with some degree of success. Both Magie and MacGinty have great attacking instincts and it could lead to the U.S. delivering some quality ball to the backs. Also changing positions is Augspurger who moves to wing from scrumhalf. He's played wing with good success before so it makes sense. Davies at scrumhalf should be a good move as well given his ability to deliver quick ball.

In the forwards the back-row will have a shake-up with Todd Clever and Cam Dolan coming in. John Quill and David Tameilau are completely rested after starting last weekend. Tony Lamborn keeps his starting spot. In the tight five Chris Baumann and Nate Brakeley keep their places. Tony Purpura gets to start at prop with James Hilterbrand at hooker. Ben Landry will also get his chance at lock.

Forwards: Tony Purpura, James Hilterbrand, Chris Baumann, Nate Brakeley, Ben Landry, Todd Clever (C), Tony Lamborn, Cam Dolan

Backs: Shaun Davies, Will Magie, Nate Augspurger, AJ MacGinty, Bryce Campbell, Matai Leuta, Mike Te'o

Bench: Peter Malcolm, Ben Tarr, Dino Waldren, Matt Jensen, Andrew Durutalo, Ben Cima, Marcel Brache, Ryan Matyas

The Opponents

The Georgian line-up is experience and littered with professionals from the top three leagues in Europe. Here is a list of their clubs: Montpellier, Worcester, Toulon, Bristol, and Clermont. That's just in their forwards. Regardless of how many international caps these players have they are going to be tough. That said, only one player has less than 10 caps. The lowest after that? 21. One of the players with the fewest caps is scrumhalf Vasil Lobzhanidze but he's only 20 years old and has 22 caps.

If the Georgians have a big weakness it's in their backs. They have some strong players like Lobzhanidze, Merab Sharikadze, and Merab Kvirikashvili but they may struggle with the quick Eagles backline. They are a great defensive core, however, and the team overall will give the Eagles problems.

Forwards: Mikheil Nariashvili, Jaba Bregvadze, Levan Chilachava, Giorgi Nemsadze, Kote Mikautadze, Lasha Lomidze, Vito Kolelishvili, Beka Bitsadze

Backs: Vasil Lobzhanidze, Lasha Khmaladze, Sandro Todua, Merab Sharikadze (C), Davit Katcharava, Giorgi Koshadze, Merab Kvirikashvili

Bench: Shalva Mamukashvili, Tomike Mataradze, Soso Bekoshvili, Giorgi Chkhaidze, Otar Giorgadze, Giorgi Tsutskiridze, Lasha Malaghuradze, Giorgi Begadze

Keys to the Match

Scrum: We've already talked about this and have touched on it's importance plenty of times but it's worth mentioning that unless the Eagles can hold their own they might be in for a long day. Georgia have good kickers and if they let the Georgians pile on the points it's going to be difficult.

Defense: Why would penalties be enough for Georgia? Their defense has really improved the last few years. When the Eagles have beaten Georgia in the past they've been able to put up a decent amount of points. However, Georgia blanked Canada last weekend and will make it difficult this week.

Score: If you take away the two charge down tries last weekend the U.S. only scored one try against Ireland. That's not good enough. They have the backs to do real damage but only if they can get them the ball. To beat Georgia they will probably need at least three tries.

Yes, all of the keys to the match are simple and overly general but when the Eagles have struggled with basic areas of the game they have to be the focus.

The Takeaway

This is a match the Eagles can and probably should win. Both sides have been on decent form as of late and both likely look to each other as benchmarks for success. Georgia will be emboldened by their win over Canada last week while the Eagles will be focused on World Cup qualifying. The heat of Atlanta is going to be something difficult for Georgia to manage and in general the Eagles have a forward back that looks like it might be able to hold its own. If they can do that then the Eagles have a backline built for success and can pile in a bevy of tries. In the end we think the Eagles take it but not by a lot.

2 comments:

  1. Not sure Mitchell is unsure of his starters. I think he is simply using these two matches to get everyone in camp match time and to ensure no one is too bruised going into the qualifiers. I imagine Mitchell has a good idea about his match day 23 against Canada.

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  2. Just to clarify as a person that knows Georgian immigrants, rugby is popular in the south of the country, but football soccer is still the main sport as a whole.

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