The World Cup certainly starts now. USA Head Coach Eddie O’Sullivan has picked basically his best available team to face Russia Saturday.
And Russia, of course, is in the USA’s pool in the World Cup. For the USA to play poorly in this match would only embolden an enemy they face again on a bigger stage in September. The Eagles aren’t completely full strength; key pros such as Taku Ngwenya, Chris Wyles, Hayden Smith, Mike MacDonald, Seta Tuilevuka and Samu Manoa are not available. While these absences are understandable, USA Rugby CEO Nigel Melville told RUGBYMag.com today that he felt the Aviva Premiership denying the availability of Smith, who did not start a huge number of games for Saracens and was not in the 22 for the Premiership final, was somewhat churlish.
Almost the entire England Saxons team was made up of Premiership players, and yet Smith was not released for the USA.
Well, no use crying over spilled milk (or should we say spilt?). The USA will play the hand that’s dealt. They have had over a week to work on their execution difficulties, and have the added incentive of playing a ranking test against an opponent they will want to make an impression on. Following this match, it’s likely O’Sullivan will fold in the pros held out of June and establish what is close to his World Cup squad. He will need to finalize not only the squad, but how they play. And it all starts now.
There are a few selections of interest in the squad. First is the only true experiment in the starting 15. Blaine Scully was called up to replace Mike Palefau, and it seems only right to start him and see how he does. O’Sullivan will start Scully at fullback and see if he sinks or swims. Scully has been outstanding this season for Cal, and partners with his former Golden Bear teammate Colin Hawley, who plays win.
O’Sullivan has opted for Mike Petri at scrumhalf, a bit of a surprise because in recent selections the coach has usually preferred Tim Usasz. Could this be a sign that he’s changing his mind?
And questions remain as to who should be the No. 8, and Lou Stanfill, who played lock against Tonga, gets a shot.
There’s one more selection, though, that’s especially important: you.
This is a test match that carries much weight. A win and the Eagles win the Bowl of the Churchill Cup; they stop a four-game skid, and possibly turn the momentum in their performances. But it helps to have the fans behind you. They won’t have many in the stands, but maybe they have some back home.
RUGBYMag.com has a fairly simple comment system, which makes it easier for you to comment. We encourage you now to post your notes of support, of encouragement, of pride, for these men. It is not easy to do what they are doing, and they still have a huge task ahead of them with seven tough test matches over the next four months. Tell them you’re proud of them.
USA National Team lineup for Russia:
15 Blaine Scully (University of California - Berkeley)
14 Colin Hawley (Olympic Club)
13 Paul Emerick (Life University)
12 Andrew Suniula (Chicago Griffins)
11 Kevin Swiryn (Agen)
10 Nese Malifa (Glendale)
9 Mike Petri (New York Athletic Club)
1 Mate Moeakiola (Bobigny 93)
2 Chris Biller (San Francisco Golden Gate)
3 Shawn Pittman (London Welsh)
4 John van der Giessen (Utah Warriors)
5 Scott LaValla (Stade Francais)
6 Inaki Basauri (L'Aquila)
7 Todd Clever (Suntory Sungoliath, captain)
8 Louis Stanfill (Mogliano)
16 Phil Thiel (Life University)
17 Eric Fry (Las Vegas Blackjacks)
18 Pat Danahy (Life University)
19 Nic Johnson (Unattached)
20 Tim Usasz (Nottingham RFC)
21 Roland Suniula (Boston Rugby)
22 Tai Enosa (Belmont Shore)