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Think back to June 2010. Eddie O’Sullivan was the head coach, and the Eagles were playing in the Churchill Cup. With the World Cup looming about 15 months away, and less than a couple of handfuls of tests for him to evaluate his personnel ahead of the big event, O’Sullivan mixed and matched lineups throughout the month.
That’s not what current coach Mike Tolkin is going to do in the same spot ahead of the 2015 World Cup, even though he’s got plenty of untested or under-tested players in his traveling squad. He’s going to start the team that gives him the best chance to win every weekend, including Saturday against Japan 7:30pm PT at the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif.
Out of the lineup is Andrew Suniula, who suffered a knee injury in the Scotland loss. Expect Folau Niua to slot in for him. Niua and flyhalf Shalom Suniula built up plenty of rapport with each other on the 7s pitch. Hooker Phil Thiel also left the Scotland game with a leg injury, but his is less serious, and he’s expected to suit up.
Another big change will likely be the injection of Samu Manoa. He welcomed a child into the world last Thursday, and understandably missed the Scotland game. He’s in camp now and is expected to slot in as a starter. The question is, where?
He could play No. 8, but Cam Dolan played well, as did the entire back row, against Scotland. Dolan could play openside, pushing LaValla to the second row. Or Manoa could start at lock. There are lots of possibilities, but expect five of these guys in the starting second-and-back rows: Todd Clever, Cam Dolan, Samu Manoa, Scott LaValla, Hayden Smith and Louis Stanfill. And expect Smith and Stanfill to not play the full 80.
There could also be some shakeup in the front row, considering the scrum’s performance against Scotland. It seemed to get better when Eric Fry left the game, but Japan is a different team, and Fry is the only overseas pro the USA has at prop. We’ll find out tomorrow when the squad is announced.