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Ahead of the Ireland test, I look at the starting lineup selections and what they mean, both for this game and on a broader scale.
No surprises here. Eric Fry and Shawn Pittman are making their fifth-straight start together. Barring a healthy Mike MacDonald sometime down the line, Fry and Pittman seem entrenched at prop.
Chris Biller has been the No. 1 selection since the World Cup. No one has rivaled him since Phil Thiel back in 2011, and though Thiel is back in the mix, he has some weight to lose before being selected as a hooker again. Tom Coolican tweaked his back against Glendale Friday, and Zach Fenoglio isn’t quite there, yet. Biller is coming off an injury, so we could see someone off the bench Saturday.
Like Fry and Pittman, Doyle and Stanfill are entrenched. They played all but one game together in 2012 and started side by side against Canada last month. They’re bruising runners and blue-collar players around the park.
Going through the phases and making tackles, along with obviously doing well in the set pieces, are what this group needs to do Saturday.
Samu Manoa – blindside. Todd Clever – No. 8. Scott LaValla – openside. We expected this group of players to be lined up next to each other, if not in this order. This is an extremely decorated, experienced, talented and athletic back row, which has the potential to be the best the Eagles have ever had. You have two regular starters from Europe’s top leagues and the first-ever American to play in Super Rugby all in a row.
Dynamic running, ball smothering tackles and possession contention is what is needed from this group. If they can get possession for the backs, the Irish could be in for a grind.
Mike Petri and Robbie Shaw traded starts last year, so it’s not like one has been clearly tabbed as the top dog. However, Shaw is coming off a subpar performance against Canada, and Petri is ready to roll again, so it appears it’s his turn. If he orchestrates a solid attack Saturday, maybe he noses ahead.
Toby L’Estrange was the guy all along at flyhalf. But Adam Siddall isn’t a slouch and he wants his shot. Competition is a good thing. Saturday, it's Toby's job to launch the backline, hold the defense accountable and work the ball wide when it's on.
It’s Andrew Suniula’s spot to hold onto for the foreseeable future. He’s been playing great in Tolkin’s system.
Great opportunity and reward for Seamus Kelly. Since seemingly his freshman year at Cal, onlookers have been counting down until his first cap and now his first start. Kelly has done and said all the right things, leading Cal to championships and getting bigger and stronger. Kelly essentially gets the start over James Paterson, who has plenty of international experience having played in Super Rugby, and contracted 7s player Blaine Scully.
Rivals the back row for the most exciting player grouping on the team. Luke Hume is a unique talent with exceptional agility and speed. No team’s found it easy to bottle him up, in 15s or 7s. Takudzwa Ngwenya is Takudzwa Ngwenya, and Chris Wyles is Chris Wyles. This is the most potent back three in years, if not history, for the USA. If they can get enough ball, they could prove world class.
No locks included, so if Doyle or Stanfill go down with injury, it will be Quill or Dahl coming in off the bench, bumping Manoa or LaVall into the second row.
Adam Siddall gets the nod over Blaine Scully. Scully was a knocked around a bit by Glendale Friday, but it didn't seem like he suffered anything serious. Siddall's ability to kick at goal makes him worth keeping around, and he played fairly well against Glendale, and he's not in the 7s pipeline. Those are all good things for the 15s team.