In a couple of hours, the USA will be kicking off against England during the opening round of the Nations Cup in Toronto, Canada. Eagles head coach Pete Steinberg took a few minutes to preview what will arguably be the USA’s toughest game of the tournament.
“England is a very strong team, and we know we’re going to be challenged all over the place,” Steinberg said. “Traditionally, they’ve pressured us in the scrums and lineouts, and they have a very dynamic row that will be difficult. They have a tremendous fullback with great running skills, a flyhalf who is a great leader of the game – there’s a reason why they’re number two in the world.”
Steinberg has made some interesting choices for the starting XV who will hopefully nullify some of England’s dominant areas of play. Lynelle Kugler, who has typically played outside center, has moved to strongside flanker.
“Lynelle was a flanker during the 2006 Rugby World Cup cycle, so it’s not a complete shift for her,” Steinberg explained. “She has lots of mobility, and we don’t have a lot of that in the states. We have physical flankers, but not ones with genuine pace. Different coaches have different view on how they put their teams together, but for me, in the long term, we want to play an exciting, dynamic game, and you need a true openside flanker for that.”
Penn State’s Sadie Anderson, the lone college player on the squad, will be manning the #10 position, and play opposite England captain Katy McLean. Steinberg, however, wasn’t too worried about Anderson’s debut at the senior level.
“Sadie’s a product of the USA Rugby age grade system,” Steinberg said. “She’s played flyhalf and fullback for the USA U20s, and she’s very experienced there. She’s played England teams before, although not at the senior level. Over the last couple of years, she’s become one of the more complete flyhalves – she can run, pass, kick and defend. She’s a dynamic player. This will certainly be a big test for her, a big step up in the pace of the game. But she’ll have Kim Magrini on her inside and Pam Kosanke outside her.”
Fullback Samantha Pankey is a new face on the scene and was first discovered at this year’s National All Star Championship in late May.
“Sam’s an athlete,” Steinberg said. “She played DI basketball and is very strong under the high ball. “This will be a big step for her in rugby, but not as an athlete. We’re excited to put her out on the field.”
England is working in six new caps this match, while the USA is being a little more conservative and vetting just two uncapped players (on the starting XV) against the Roses.
“We’ve got 26 players, four games, and only two days recover before our second game. It’s going to be as much about player management as experimenting with combinations,” Steinberg addressed the theory that latter games would be used to play with the lineup. “We already have a couple players who are sitting out because they’re not 100% for this game, so with a pool of 26, you’re already pretty close to where you want to be. I don’t know if we’ll be experimenting too much; we have a pretty good understanding of everyone’s ability.”
That said, the team and its staff is expecting to exit this game and this tournament with a wealth of lessons.
“For us, it’s about benchmarking where we are, finding areas of strengths and critical areas where we need to work,” Steinberg said. “Whether we win or lose, we’re early in the cycle – this is my first event – and we’re here to learn.
“The vibe is very positive,” Steinberg said of the players’ energy. “Camp has been really good, and players recognize the challenge of having the toughest schedule of anyone. They also know that we have some new players stepping up who are extremely inexperienced, but that’s OK and they’ll step up.”
View England's and the USA's full lineup here. Tune in at 6:30 p.m. via www.ustream.tv/channel/live-rugby for live streaming of the USA v England match.