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The game involves quick ball from the ruck and a quick pass from the scrumhalf to any number of options in either direction. The scrumhalf pass usually hits the forwards in the flat, with the forwards moving onto the ball.
The backs get the ball a little deeper, but even on flat passes are expected to link more than one pass and expected to run hard.
The result, when it has worked, is consistent gainline breaches, but it requires concentration, a very fit and active #9, and teamwork. Fortunately, the Eagles have a very fit and active #9. The rest is coming together, but, understandably, can result in dropped balls as the players get their timing down.
“Tactically, last week was challenging because we had a new system that we wanted to put in and really only five days to do it, where it should take more like eight to ten days to install it,” said USA Head Coach Mike Tolkin. “I thought overall, the guys responded pretty well. We know we have to take care of the ball. We’ve been pretty hard on the players on not dropping balls in training.”
At scrumhalf, Mike Petri has had a lot of work to do, as he has to get to breakdowns quickly; the Eagles will not stand around with a ruck won and the ball at their feet, waiting for some golden opportunity in the future. They need their #9 to get there and spin the ball immediately.
“I’m enjoying the new pattern a lot,” Petri told RUGBYMag.com. “There’s a lot involved, and it’s a big ask in terms of work rate for the halfback. But I really, really enjoy it. It allows us to play an exciting brand of rugby, something a lot of the guys who have been here for some time have been waiting a while to do.”
The system offers plenty of options, and with that comes the opportunity for some creativity.
“The more we get comfortable with each other the more it will fall into place and the more options you’ll see,” said Petri. “And as we continue to read the game and understand what the options are and execute it, the better it will be. I think proper execution definitely has a lot to do with it. We all took ownership of our mistakes. But we have confidence, and we also know the issues are fixable.”
The coaching staff is putting in tweaks, too. The pass not going to hand isn’t all on the players.
“I think the thing we need to get just right is finding the right depth at which you can hold the defender, but also be deep enough to catch the ball and have one step to elude,” said Tolkin.”It’s not enough to hold the defenders if you’re far behind the gainline, but it has to be far enough away where we have a step to get away from a defender, and not get hit when you’re catching the ball.”