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One of the major takeaways from the series of summer tests, including Saturday's loss to the Harlequins, was AJ MacGinty’s presence at flyhalf. While the Irish-born product and current Life rugby standout struggled with the boot a bit on the weekend, his continued development as the orchestrator of the offense has the coaching staff and opponents singing his praises.
“AJ MacGinty played very good,” Eagles coach Mike Tolkin told reporters at the post game press conference. “He has been playing consistently well. He did the little things better today than he has been.”
Harlequins captain Nick Evans added, “he had a lot of space and he took it. I thought he was brilliant today. He marshaled the team around the field.”
MacGinty showed some nifty footwork and tremendous vision throughout the game. No better example was the Eagles' first try. Mike Petri swung turnover ball right, and the flyhalf slithered through a pair of would-be tacklers for a one-on-one with the Quins fullback. He drew the defender in and found a streaking Thretton Palamo, who sprinted in untouched for the try. It is that type of dynamic ability and finishing prowess that has been lacking for the USA in recent years.
With the World Cup fast approaching MacGinty has cemented himself as the starting flyhalf. However, along with the well-executed offload this Saturday, MacGinty left other points on the table. He found himself behind the defense on multiple occasions and the Eagles were unable to get points.
One glaring error, midway through the second half, saw MacGinty beat his opposite number and found himself one-on-one with the fullback once again. This time, however, the pass was a little ahead of his oncoming teammate and knocked on. While it is great to see the ball in the playmaker's hands behind the defense, the expectation should be for that to turn into points. Against high quality opponents, especially in the coming weeks, it will be pivotal for the Eagles to turn those opportunities into tries.
Credit is due to MacGinty for his ability to get past the defense consistently and get his teammates over the gain line. For having only played a handful of games at flyhalf for the Eagles, MacGinty looks in complete control at the moment.
His ability to gain territory or spark an offensive possession with his kicking has been a boost to the Eagles. That was on display early on in the match, with MacGinty launching an up-and-under kick. The flyhalf weighted the kick beautifully and was on site for the tackle, and he helped earn a penalty with the effort. His kick from a difficult angle put the Eagles up, 6-0, early in the match.
As for the defensive side of the ball, MacGinty has displayed tremendous toughness despite being on the smaller side. The 6'0, 200-pounder has not shied away from the contact and looks fully capable of playing at this level. The only blemish for MacGinty Saturday was on the Quins' first try. MacGinty was fooled by a switch and was beaten to the inside by Quins scrumhalf Karl Dickson. That, however, is something that can be studied in film and was most likely a communication error.
The Life product has been continuously improving in his brief time with the Eagles, but his biggest test will come against a World-Cup-ready Australia side on Saturday. Hopefully the challenge will bode well for the flyhalf as the Eagles head to England in a couple of weeks.