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The USA team stopped off for a long layover in Munich before traveling on to Tbilisi. While in Munich the Eagles got to see some historic and scenic sights, stretching their legs on the long trip and relaxing a little.
There is plenty of history in Tbilisi, too, in a city that is 1,534 years
old and overwhelmed with feral cats. Having been invaded by the Byzantines,
the Arabs, the Turks, the Seljuks, the (wait for it) Mongols, the
Russians, the Soviets, and the Russians again, they aren't too worried
about a few American rugby players.
In fact, Dynamo Arena, where the USA will take on the Lelos, is a very tough place the play. The fans are rabid, and intimidating, and the team itself, which just beat Canada 19-15 in a game punctuated by a massive, 30-man fistfight that, amazingly, produced only two red cards, is a tough opponent, as well.
But the Eagles come in feeling fairly good about their chances. Despite some bad injury news, they bolster their team with Samu Manoa, Chris Wyles, and Blaine Scully.
Those three stayed in Europe last week, but only Scully actually played, which has to make USA Coach Mike Tolkin happy. What also made him happy was how players who were thrust into the spotlight last weekend did so well. Tai Tuisamoa, not on the trip to Georgia, was very impressive as a power-surging lock. Graham Harriman was immense at second row, also, playing easily his best game.Tim Maupin had a rookie's game, with some big plays and some missteps, and he will be back in the mix. Adam Siddall came through as a tough physical presence who can kick clutch goals.
All of that and Cam Dolan taking yet another stop forward in his development; his being so strong at No. 8 means Todd Clever gets to be blindside flanker, where he has more freedom to roam, run with the ball, and make tackles.
But more than anything, it was a case of trust borne out.
"I think the players know now that these new players can come in and perform," said Tolkin, before adding that he, too, has gained confidence in those players.
"I think we have some things we need to do better," added Tolkin. "But we were really pleased with how hard the guys played, and the effort showed. We need to be better in try-scoring opportunities. We need to turn slow ball into faster ball and use the backs more. All of that, but the players put in a solid effort and that was good."
As solid effort is what they will need against Georgia. Tbilisi is very difficult to play in. The crowd is loud, passionate, and a little bit intimidating. Fortunately, several of the USA players have already been there.
Phil Thiel, Shawn Pittman, Samu Manoa, Todd Clever, Mike Petri, Chris Wyles, and Andrew Suniula all played in 2010 when Georgia won 19-17 on Lexo Gugava's last-second try, coupled with Merab Kvirikashvili's conversion.
They will not be shaken by the crowd, or the frustrating, physical nature of the game.
"We know it's going to be a hard game, especially up front," said Tolkin. "More than anything we've got to hold up up front. We feel now, with what our forwards have shown, we can match them and get momentum on our side, and there are some things we can do."
The USA backs could well break out of their shell in this game if they get good enough ball. They did in the two games the USA played against Georgia in the USA.
So don't begrudge the Eagles a little trip down to the Isar River outside Munich, or lunch in the 850-year-old city. They have a battle awaiting them at the gateway to Asia, and it will be anything but easy.