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Head Coach Mike Tolkin tested a bunch of players against Glendale, several out of position. He was using the game to see how players would do in the system and under pressure. Several didn't do so well. OK, lesson learned.
But the Eagles that will play Ireland will be seasoned players, for the
most part. They will be mostly the team that played Romania in
Paul Emerick is now training with the USA, but he is not ready to play yet, so don't expect that .... but it is good news that he's back on the field and that his ankle is healing.
Blaine Scully is hurt and not expected to play this weekend, which perhaps makes a few decisions in the backline a bit easier. There are conflicting reports as to whether Chris Biller is going to be able to play. Our bet is ... no. Not quite yet.
In picking his starting lineup, Tolkin may not have to consider too much, as most of the team picks itself.
Props will be Eric Fry and Shawn Pittman.
Locks will be Brian Doyle and Lou Stanfill.
The back row will likely be Todd Clever, Scott LaValla and Samu Manoa.
Flyhalf will be Toby L'Estrange.
Inside Center will be Andrew Suniula.
Wings will be Luke Hume and Taku Ngwenya.
So that's ten players whose positions we know.
Hooker is a question-mark because of Biller's foot injury, but I figure Zach Fenoglio will start again. Scrumhalf is a question-mark because Robbie Shaw did not have a great game against Canada, and Mike Petri is fit now. We might see Petri start.
Outside center remains a big question in the absence of Emerick, and, really, the USA system needs to secure some depth at this position. Should the Eagles try James Paterson there and Chris Wyles at fullback? Or what about Wyles at 13 and Adam Siddall at fullback? With Blaine Scully hurt, at least this isn't a four-player game of musical backline.
Here's what I think - Paterson wants to play outside center, but it would have helped him to have played a blinder against Glendale, which he did not. Wyles has played 13 at Saracens and with success. Tolkin wants to be sure he has a reliable goalkicker on the squad, and if he puts Wyles in at outside center and plays Siddall at fullback, he has two.
Now ... you wonder if he shouldn't put Siddall in the midfield instead, and
I actually like that option ... Wyles as fullback is kind of a field
general out there ... but I would be surprised that happens.
Now that team is really good. As long as the halfbacks work together well and they relax, they will be good on offense. And the forwards are strong - they know how to play, they like a physical game, and they can probably win the battle at the coal face.
Whether they beat Ireland is another matter. Despite the fact that Ireland is missing ten players to the British & Irish Lions, this is a team to be concerned about.
Think on the fact that for some players on the Lions, this is their last international hurrah. The guys playing for Ireland instead of them in North America will likely be the starters in next year's Six Nations regardless.
Perhaps the biggest blow they took was losing Rory Best, selected as tour captain, to the Lions. Ireland has six uncapped players, but remember that those are all playing professional rugby for Connacht, Munster or Ulster.
They are savvy, speedy at scrumhalf, and their kicking game is excellent. The USA has to take them out of that, hope that the 90+-degree weather all week in Houston runs down the pale Irish boys more than it does the Americans.
I like the USA's chances, but Ireland is still a team of fully-professional players playing at the highest level in Europe, and the Eagles are still a team where they have a few players of that background, but are still mostly playing catchup in game-to-game experience.
You win anyway by executing as a team, and executing as an individual. And no underdog ever went wrong by trying to win the physical battle.