Friday, June 15, 2018

Preview: Can The Eagles Beat Scotland?

The Eagles face Scotland on Saturday in Houston with one goal: beat a Tier I nation. It's something the U.S. has never done. They have had some good chances and some close calls but have never been able to make it happen. One of these days that is going to change the question is whether or not it is going to be this weekend. This Eagles team looks very strong. They are at near full-strength in their line-up and have depth that they haven't had in years. If you look at key parts of their roster they have some very strong players. Arguably their best player is their flyhalf. They have world-class players on the wing, locks, and at other positions on the field. They have players with experience in the top flights of professional rugby. They have also played together for awhile, something that has been a problem in the past.

It's also tempting to look at Scotland and say that the U.S. has a chance. After all, Scotland over the last ten years has consistently been one of the lower performing Tier I sides. The U.S. even held a halftime lead against Scotland in the last World Cup. Scotland is also sending over a younger squad. However, this iteration of Scotland is not the same one of years past. Scotland finished third in the Six Nations this year (ahead of England mind you) with wins over France, Italy, and England. They are ranked sixth in the world for a reason.

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So, can the U.S. beat Scotland? Yes they can, but it would be a big upset. Right now the U.S. are building toward the World Cup. If they were able to beat Scotland at this point it would be a giant step in the right direction but while it would be awesome the U.S. would rather score a big win over France, Argentina, or England in the World Cup. This match is about preparation for 2019. Again, a win would be nice but it's about improving and challenging yourself against good opposition. In Scotland they are certainly getting that.

The Squad

Head coach Gary Gold has stated his preference for keeping line-ups intact and he lived up to that preference by making not changes to his starters that played against Russia last week.  Despite an early hiccup against Russia the team had a very good match. They were strong in the lineout, the scrum was solid, and their attack got going well. Now the players are going to have to take a step up. We think they will in many ways. The lineout is absolutely capable of a Tier I level. The backs are also ready to score a lot of points. Scoring has always been a problem against Tier I teams in the past but this team can score. Defensively they are also very strong but are going to be tested.

Forwards: Eric Fry, Joe Taufete'e, Paul Mullen, Samu Manoa, Nick Civetta, John Quill, Hanco Germishuys, Cam Dolan

Backs: Shaun Davies, AJ MacGinty, Marcel Brache, Paul Lasike, Bryce Campbell, Blaine Scully (C), Will Hooley

Bench: Dylan Fawsitt, Titi Lamositele, Chris Baumann, Greg Peterson, Ben Landry, Nate Augspurger, Will Magie, Dylan Audsley

The Opponents

Scotland are giving a couple of players debuts this weekend. George Horne will start at scrumhalf and Matt Fagerson will start at No. 8. Overall there aren't a lot of caps. The team averages 12 caps but if you take away captain Stuart Hogg (60 caps) and vice captains Pete Horne (33) and Tim Swinson (36) you end up with only 53 total caps and an average of 4.4 caps per player. In particular there are unexperienced players (at least internationally) in the halfbacks where there is a total of one cap between Adam Hastings and George Horne.

Thing is that despite their lack of international experience they all have a plethora of professional experience. These players have been playing and training with fully professional clubs. These players also have been stars at the youth level. They are not players who were playing with an amateur club asked to come into the national team. They may be uncapped but they know how to play in crunch time.

Forwards: Jamie Bhatti, George Turner, Zander Fagerson, Lewis Carmichael, Ben Toolis, Tim Swinson, Luke Hamilton, Matt Fagerson

Backs: George Horne, Adam Hastings, Byron McGuigan, Pete Horne, Nick Grigg, Blair Kinghorn, Stuart Hogg

Bench: Fraser Brown, Allan Dell, Murray McCallum, Grant Gilchrist, David Denton, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, Mark Bennett, Dougie Fife

The History

The U.S. and Scotland have played five times with Scotland winning all of them. The last meeting was at the World Cup where Scotland won 39-16 despite the U.S. leading 13-6 at halftime. In 2014 Scotland won 24-6 in Houston.

Keys to the Match

Depth: One of the key issues that has prevented the U.S. beating a Tier I country in the past is depth. Just look at the World Cup where the U.S. led at halftime. Scotland was able to turn it on in the second half as the U.S. lack of depth started to show. This year the U.S. has a strong bench and over the last few years the U.S. has been a very good second half team. If the U.S. has a lead or it's close at the end the U.S. may have a chance now when they didn't before.

Scrum: We say it every time but it is important. The U.S. has improved and if they can stay even with Scotland it is going to let them do things they couldn't otherwise.

Rely on Experience: This is an experienced U.S. team. They are going to need that experience when they face difficult circumstances. Can they finish? Can they keep the scoreboard ticking? The fact that they have some very experienced players at key positions will help. Also, the U.S. needs to take advantage of the lack of experience with the Scottish halfbacks.

The Takeaway

There is a chance the U.S. could beat Scotland but we're not sure it happens. These young Scottish players are motivated and now with a match under their belts from what was a sub-par performance against Canada they will want a good result. Again, the U.S. are looking for positives. If they can do many of the things that saw success against Russia--scoring tries, limiting turnovers, strong set piece play--against Scotland it will be a win even if the scoreboard doesn't say so.

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