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Following a disappointing effort against Tonga in the final game of group play at the Pacific Nations Cup, the USA Eagles will look to finish the tournament on a high note against North American rival Canada on Monday in Burnaby, British Columbia.
The Eagles’ effort was futile against a strong Tonga team in a 33-19 loss on Wednesday. Ahead of the match, Eagles head coach Mike Tolkin changed up the roster, adding 13 new players to the starting XV from the previous match. Right from the start, Tonga had the Eagles on the heels. It also didn’t help that the Eagles were hampered by more turnovers and mistakes, a problem that plagued them in their first PNC match against Samoa. Tolkin said that the roster change-up hurt the chemistry on the field, and led to some of the mistakes and sloppiness.
“It was very similar to the first game,” he said. “You had a lot of new faces out there that had never played together. You can practice all you want, but there’s nothing that replicates playing in a match. You had a number of guys who hadn’t played a game of XVs rugby this year, and a number of guys who played limited rugby. It wasn’t necessarily going to be a pretty affair.”
Despite the lack of cohesiveness, Tolkin also thought some other parts of the game that didn’t require chemistry looked sloppy, like missed tackles and individual mistakes.
Tolkin said he changed around the roster to give their main players a rest and avoid injuries to some of their top talent. He also did it to give some of his depth players more experience, so they can look poised should they need to step in for an injured player later on, perhaps in the Rugby World Cup.
Another big factor in the match was the weather. It was the hottest day of the year in Toronto, and the players on the field felt the effects.
“I think it was a factor for both teams, and everybody who played on the day,” he said. “No doubt about it. It was really hot and humid.”
The Eagles now turn their attention to Canada, who fell 21-20 to Samoa in a heartbreaker in front of their home crowd in Toronto. Sakaria Taulafo scored the game-winning try for Samoa following a botched line-out win by Canada as the horn sounded on full-time. The Canadians will be hungry to win, especially against their neighbors to the south. Tolkin said his team needs to get better at what made them so powerful against Japan: their set pieces and line-outs.
“We have to eliminate mistakes, and our set piece, especially in the line-out, has to get back to where were operating in the first two games. We have to be smart about how we play in our end of the field.”
He also said that the rivalry between the USA and Canada adds an extra edge to the upcoming game.
“Whenever we play Canada, it’s an exciting game. Guys are really pumped up to play, and everybody gets a charge out of playing Canada. It’s going to be an exciting afternoon.”
Tolkin said that he plans to bring back a lot of the players that made the Eagles so successful against Japan. One player that might not be in, however, is Louis Stanfill, who is day-to-day following an elbow injury suffered early in the Tonga match. Tolkin said that the injury is not serious or a long-term issue, and they will play it cautiously with him as the summer progresses.
The match kicks off at 5:00 P.M. EST and can be seen on ESPN3 or the WatchESPN App.