Friday, June 9, 2017

Preview: Underdog Eagles Take On Ireland

The Eagles open up their crucial summer series this weekend against Ireland. Playing the Irish is a big match, especially because it will be shown live on NBCSN, played in a bigger stadium, and involves a Tier I team that recently beat the All Blacks in Chicago. However, it's important to keep the bigger picture in mind because head coach John Mitchell sure has. The Eagles will run out a relatively young squad on Saturday with several of their professionals either hurt or not in the line-up. With a huge World Cup qualifying series coming up against Canada the idea is to get the domestic players up to speed and keeping some of your key players fresh for Canada.

Make no mistake, beating Canada later in the summer is the goal. The U.S. has never beaten Canada at this stage of World Cup qualifying and it's a major goal for the program. In that context the match against Ireland will make more sense. Many of the team's European players like Joe Taufete'e are coming off the longest stretches of high-level play they've ever had and facing a hungry Ireland team they could get beat up. Also, giving younger players starting time will help them get into the systems Mitchell wants them to run. If they had only played a few minutes off the bench it probably wouldn't be enough to get them ready for Georgia and Canada. 

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All of that said, for most fans the big question heading into the match is whether the Eagles can win. The answer is yes and now. In theory the Eagles could come away with the big win but given the respective line-ups put out by each team it doesn't seem likely. The last two times the U.S. faced Ireland they were close matches. In the latest meeting the U.S. had the likes of Samu Manoa available in a relatively full-strength line-up. They don't have that this time. Ireland are also missing players with the Lions the Warren Gatland's Wales heavy Lions squad means that Ireland have more first-team players available then they probably should have. The combination makes a win by the Eagles much less likely than it was against Italy last year or against Scotland in the World Cup.

The match starts at 5:00 p.m. et/2:00 p.m. et and will be shown live on NBCSN. 

The Team

As mentioned the Eagles will have a young roster. Only three players in the starting line-up--Chris Baumann, John Quill, and AJ MacGinty--were on the Eagles roster for the World Cup. There are more on the bench but the bulk of the starters will be getting their first opportunity in a big match. That doesn't mean there isn't experience. Tony Lamborn and David Tameilau have been fantastic while Marcel Brache plays Super Rugby. Brache and the rest of the backs should be fun to watch. They all have great running skills and defensively they are sharp. However, the question is whether they have the composure to withstand relentless Irish pressure.

The back-row and the locks should be excellent. That has really been a power for the Eagles recently and it's expected to pay off again. Where the Eagles could really struggle is in the front-row. Ben Tarr and Peter Malcolm are up and coming but this is their biggest challenge yet.

Forwards: Ben Tarr, Peter Malcolm, Chris Baumann, Nate Brakeley, Nic Civetta, John Quill, Tony Lamborn, David Tameilau

Backs: Nate Augspurger, AJ MacGinty, Martin Iosefo, Marcel Brache, Ryan Matyas, Mike Te'o, Ben Cima

Bench: James Hilterbrand, Joe Taufete'e, Paddy Ryan, Matt Jensen, Andrew Durutalo, Shaun Davies, Will Magie, Bryce Campbell

The Opposition

Ireland have named an young and experienced team to face the Eagles on Saturday. While thy have the likes of Cian Healy (67 caps), Devin Toner (47 caps), and Keith Earls (59 caps) starting, they are also set to give a number of players their Irish debut. That includes Jacob Stockdale who will start on the wing. Four players on the bench also have zero caps. In the starters, two players only have one cap and six have less than five. Only five of the starters have more than 10 caps. While it's a young squad they are all full-time professionals and will be hungry to prove themselves.

Forwards: Cian Healy (67), Niall Scannell (4), John Ryan (6), Quinn Roux (1), Devin Toner (47), Rhys Ruddock (13) (C), Josh Van Der Flier (7), Jack Conan (1)

Backs: Kieran Marmion (13), Joey Carbery (3), Jacob Stockdale (0), Luke Marshall (9), Garry Ringrose (8), Keith Earls (59), Tiernan O'Halloran (3)

Bench: Dave Heffernan (0), David Kilcoyne (17), Andrew Porter (0), James Ryan (0), Dan Leavy (2), Luke McGrath (2), Rory Scannell (0), Simon Zebo (33)

Keys to the Match

Scrum: We talk about it all the time but it is so crucial to the Eagles success. As we've seen when the scrum works it gains them penalties and puts them on the right side of the referee's whistle. When the scrum goes sideways the Eagles quite easily pick up yellow cards and give opponents great opportunities to score. A lot is literally going to be on the shoulders of Tarr, Malcolm, and Chris Baumann as they face Cian Healy and company.

Kicking: This is another area we talk about every time because it's so important. If the Eagles and AJ MacGinty can put up some points early they may have a chance. Had the U.S. had confidence in their long range kicking a few years back against Ireland they may have come away with the win. This is also refereeing to kicking from the backs. Ireland are going to try and pressure the U.S. for territory and Ben Cima is going to need to be smart.

Distractions: Heading into camp when you know your coach is leaving is never ideal. However, all indications we've heard is that the team is taking it in stride and really focusing on their task at hand. They need that preparation if they are going to win.

Set Pieces: This no only refers to defending Ireland's set pieces but also to utilizing the Eagles strengths in this department. The maul has been very effective for the Eagles recently and it can help create scoring opportunities.

The Takeaway

A win would be spectacular here but in reality if the Eagles can walk away from this match better prepared for the Canada series it should be considered a positive result. Younger players are going to get an opportunity to know what it's like to play Ireland and up their game accordingly. They are also going to have to play under pressure. That's important because if players like Andrew Durutalo or Cam Dolan go down to injury it's going to be up to the younger players to step up the rest of the tour. Again, a win would be nice but if they can keep it close and have some momentum from positive play then it should be considered a victory.


  1. Say what you will about it being a young lineup, but you have to like the size coming off the bench. Which should provide a good punch in the last 20-30 minutes.

  2. Looks like everyone agrees that most of our best players are not in the starting lineup, some due to injury some due to selection. Good thing this game is not in the spotlight, on national TV, etc. Oh wait....