The USA team to face the Maori All Blacks is as home grown a team as any we’ve seen. Of the squad of 23, 14 played high school rugby in the USA, something we will continue to see more of.
And it’s an American style of play that will see the USA home with a victory Saturday. They will need to be very aggressive, tough in tight, and will need to be strong when keeping the ball in hand. Drops, fumbles, and risky passes will only help the Maori.
The Maori, for their part, can win with about 30% of the possession. They have quick-strike ability, are pretty good in tight, too, and are really good at finding and exploiting space. Fans should enjoy this one, because it’s unlikely to be a kicking contest.
Here’s a look at the USA lineup, and what each can bring to the game:
- Nick Wallace. He showed he is pretty effective in the open field, so his big responsibility will be as a lifter in the lineout. If the lineout sings, the Eagles have their best attacking platform.
- Phil Thiel. A tough, hard-nosed player, he has become a spiritual leader in a new drive for the forward to be more aggressive, more gritty. He likes that style and will urge his teammates to follow it. Key for him? Those lineout throws. On crucial attacking lineouts near the line, he has to be accurate, and he has to be clear with the rest of the forwards where the ball is going.
- Shawn Pittman. Like Wallace, Pittman can get a lot done out wide, and he’s a solid defender around the fringes – something the Eagles will need. But it’s set piece time again … the USA needs Pittman to control the scrum at tighthead. With the new laws, he can do that, and cause the Maori some problems.
- Scott Lavalla. Usually a flanker, LaValla can get around the field and is a good tackler. As the lineout caller he has a big responsibility but should do fine. Where fans would like to see more of him is running the ball. He is a hugely effective attacking player; it just seems like he takes a back seat at times.
- Tai Tuisamoa. Tuisamoa is in this team because he’s physically imposing. That’s what he has to bring to this game. He needs to drive ballcarriers back, he needs to make tacklers nervous, and he has to ruck.
- Todd Clever. At #6 Clever will be free to roam the field, and he will be able to make more plays as a defender off the scrum. He is an excellent lineout jump and support runner. This is a good place for him.
- Peter Dahl. Dahl is playing against his countrymen, and certainly will want to make an impression. His job is to steal ball, and if that’s not possible, he has to slow it down. Everything is secondary to Dahl’s ability to make the ruck a difficult time for the Maori. Let the other guys hit, just go for the ball.
- Cameron Dolan. Success in handling the ball at the back of the scrum, and in covering kicks is why Cam Dolan is at No. 8. It’s a very good spot for him, as he has the skills to make it work. He showed he can handle the rough stuff in the ARC, but this will be a fast game. He has to be tough and cover a lot of aground. A lot.
- Mike Petri. The link between scrumhalf and flyhalf has to be perfect in this game. Petri has an excellent pass. Can he use it to get Toby L’Estrange going? They have to be working together.
- Toby L’Estrange. Having picked up his game in the ARC, L’Estrange has to do more. He needs to communicate, use his outside backs, and not squander possession. It’s all about decision-making for him L’Estrange. He has two really good centers, and plenty of forwards running off his inside. He just needs to keep working all the options.
- Tim Maupin. The former St. Mary’s All American got on this team because he makes tackles and he breaks tackles. Well he will need to make a lot of tackles in this game. The Maori will want to send the ball to the wing, but they will also want to wait until someone else makes the gainline. Backtracking and marking his opposite is a key job for Maupin.
- Andrew Suniula. Of late Suniula has done a solid job making the gain line and keeping the ball going forward. He needs to do that, and keep the ball in contact. Defensively, it’s all about working with everyone else. Suniula and L’Estrange probably need to be the ones who keep the defensive line intact.
- Seamus Kelly. Kellyis really good in rucks, and has a multitude of skills. He just has to use them. Simple things – keeping the eye on the ball as it comes to you, making sure that pass is just right, keeping the defensive line true – those will be what ensures Kelly has a good game. He does those things, something special will pop up.
- Luke Hume. Currently one of the USA’s most dynamic players, Hume can invent tries out of nothing, and is a jackrabbit full of energy. What he needs to add to that is complete security on defense. Like Maupin, Hume may find himself chasing a wing who is running in support. That guy, if he gets the ball, has to go down.
- Adam Siddall. Siddall may find himself handling some breakaways and having to make some open-field tackles. He will need to do that. But measurement of his game may well come down to goalkicking. As we said in Alex Goff’s Eagle Eye column Friday, kicking goals will serve to keep the Maori honest. That’s crucial.
On the bench. Some players, such as Titi Lamositele, Shaun Davies, and Folau Niua could well come on relatively early to inject new enthusiasm into the game – certainly Niua will. Others are a bit of an experiement. Kyle Sumsion should get some time, and he will get it so Mike Tolkin can see what he has there. Sumsion’s job, should he choose to accept it, will be much like Dahl’s.