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This is the first test match in Houston since December 1, 2011, when about 13,000 saw the Eagles push South Africa. The final score was 43-20, but was 20-15 at halftime. The Eagles got one try in that game, from one of the two players in that game who are still with the Eagles, Mike MacDonald. (The other is Mose Timoteo.)
A crowd possibly surpassing the 2001 total is expected this weekend, and if that’s the case, Houston will have made its case for getting a regular test match. They certainly can bring the fans.
MacDonald will extend his USA record for caps if he runs on as a sub this weekend, to 68. If Timoteo gets on – the scrumhalf has spent a good part of this assembly sick or injured – it will be his first cap since playing against Barbados in 2006. He made his debut against Tonga in 2000.
USA wing Luke Hume is being called the “New Russian” by players on the team. The original “Russian” was former Eagle Tim Usasz, an emotional, slightly crazy little player. Hume has that same wild intensity.
Last week, Scott LaValla and Lou Stanfill led all USA tacklers with seven tackles. That’s not very much, actually, but a testament to the fact the Eagles were able to keep the ball for long periods. It’s also telling that the top tacklers were forwards. Third on the team was center Andrew Suniula, with six.
Those numbers are not unlike the numbers for the USA when they played Italy at the 2011 Rugby World Cup. There Paul Emerick led the team with seven tackles, while forwards Phil Thiel, Stanfill, Hayden Smith, and flyhalf Roland Suniula all got six.
The different was Italy made a lot more tackles because the USA could not,
at the time, break the gainline, but could keep the ball for long periods.
Four Italians recorded tackle totals in double figures.
Set piece will be a huge part of Saturday’s game. The USA lineout has been performing well. They were 10/13 on their own throws, with those three losses coming late in the match against Georgia. They were able to retain all five of their scrum put-ins, however the Eagles did get pinged for several scrum penalties.
The scrum, however, does seem to be more stable, and a little stronger than it was last September against Italy.