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If you had to grade the difficulty of the USA’s two-match November Tour, the easy one is behind the Eagles, a 46-17 defeat of Germany, and the hard one is ahead of them. But the first 40 minutes of the easy one was pretty darned hard, with the Americans trailing the entire first half against Germany. And the hard one looks like it may be the really, really hard one, as Georgia is fresh off a seven-point loss to Wales.
With his stomach full of turkey, thanks to the hard work of manager Chris Hanson and the Eagle staff to have a full-on spread drummed up in former Soviet territory, Blaine Scully took a few minutes of his Thanksgiving to chat about the November Tour. He will lead the Eagles out against 12th-ranked Georgia Saturday at Lokomotivi Stadium in Tbilisi. The game will be streamed live at 9 a.m. ET on The Rugby Channel.
RT: What was the team’s discussion like surrounding that first half against Germany? It was always going to be difficult on a short week, with travel mixed in and a new coaching staff, but you guys did get off to a sluggish start.
BS: It was really kind of a classic start to a test match in the sense that everyone’s really excited and wants to impose themselves on the game, and we probably forced our hand a bit and turned over the ball. Germany is a tough team, and we were always expecting a challenge from them, especially the first 20 minutes at home. We knew they’d be up for it and they proved they were.
I think the thing we found is we just need to stay consistent, trust our systems, trust our process, and trust our ability to stay in the game and do what we do well. We just needed to continue to do what we were doing, but just execute better. I think the second half we were able to do that and take the game into our own hands.
RT: For the third-straight November, you guys have a different coaching staff. And now you have an interim head coach. So you guys went from, hi, name is, to, this is how we’re going to beat Germany very quickly last week. What was that process like?
BS: I think I would probably be pretty quick to give credit to everybody involved. It’s not easy from a dynamics point of view, with all the different workings. But everyone’s just kind of got in and gotten to work, which has been really great, and everyone’s pitched in along that effort, so we’ve been able to build a relationship and some connections pretty quickly, because we’ve had to.
I think the coaching staff and the administration side have done a good job of setting that up, so from our perspective, it was keep it as simple as possible, build and establish the connections and relationships that are going to be crucial to us being successful on the field, and then just put everything we’ve got into getting as prepared as we can. Nothing is going to be perfect, but we give everything we have to continually improve and put ourselves into position to hopefully win some test matches. .
RT: How different are the attack patterns, defensive structures and the general game plan than what you guys were doing under John Mitchell?
BS: Pretty much the same, and John Hood being here has provided a lot of continuity from a training perspective, as our S&C coach, so we have the metrics. And obviously [interim head coach Dave Hewitt] and the coaches have provided their input, which has been really good. It’s kind of full credit to our team for just buying in and giving everything they’ve got to just own the material as quickly as possible to be able to implement it.
RT: Shaky start against Germany. Georgia is coming in having flirted with a massive upset last week. Did you build enough momentum in that second half against Germany, and have you had enough time together now to be able to compete with a strong Lelos side?
BS: I think we’re going to need to. They are a big, physical side which continue to improve and evolve as a team. They proved they can challenge and are willing to take on anybody. Mentally and physically we’re going to have to be ready for that right off the bat. I feel pretty confident in our squad and our ability to do that. It’s about taking what we’ve trained for the week and applying it at the intensity level that the test requires, which is going to be a real challenge on Saturday night.
RT: Georgia is a side that really relishes its set piece. They like to take some air out of the ball, move it up the field methodically, and punish you in the scrum. What are your keys to success against a side like that?
BS: I think the higher the tempo, the higher the ball in play, the better for us. Not that we think we have a bad set piece by any means, we just know that’s the strength of Georgia, so our job is to try to take their strength away from them as much as we can and impose our own game plan and our own systems and our own structure to hopefully have our own game plan win early and have that continue throughout the contest.
RT: You’ve played in Tbilisi before. Georgian rugby is extremely popular, and they usually get 50,000-plus fans for home tests. Some of your Eagle predecessors have talked about how intimidating an environment it can be. How would you describe it, and what do you tell your teammates who’ve never played there before?
BS: I think hostile is the right word. Everything about the contest is going to be hostile and confrontational. What we face on the field is going to be hostile. What we face from the environment is going to be a challenge. You recognize the environment you’re going in, you take it for what it is, and then you just focus on what you’re there to do, which is your job. Hopefully as a team we can collectively do that. I think we are able to be in a good position to put in a good performance.