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Looking ahead to Saturday’s match between the USA Eagles and Germany, anticipating how things will go, from an American perspective, is not easy. These sides have never played each other, after all.
Last weekend, Germany handily defeated Brazil, 45-12. It might be easy to ignore that result, but let us not forget that Brazil defeated the Eagles in 2016 and Canada in 2017. Still, Brazil was not at its best and part of that comfortable score line was what the Germans did well, but part was also Brazilian mistakes.
One thing that Germany found relatively easy against Brazil which should be difficult against the Eagles was getting one-off runners well over the advantage line. Time and time again, the German forwards were able to put the Brazilian defense on their heels. Part of what made these runs successful were the smart running lines taken by the German forwards off rucks. These successful runs allowed the fly half time and space to kick well and keep play in the Brazilian half.
If those one-off runners are stopped behind the advantage line, everything else gets a lot harder for the Germans.
Against Brazil, Germany ran a peel from the tail of the lineout, with the scrum half and winger looking to attack the space between the 15-meter hash and first “back line” defender, with some success. That is not the move, however, that should concern American fans. The Germans also ran a peel to the front of the lineout, attacking the five-meter channel. They scored from the possession, though not from the immediate thrust. The Eagles have recently made some mistakes defending the five-meter-channel from lineouts with the first player in the lineout only focused on joining the maul and the defender in that channel—either a scrum half or winger—unable to make the smashing tackle that would end the momentum.
The last time the Eagles played, it was under John Mitchell against Canada in a match that secured a spot at the 2019 World Cup. The side that plays Germany, and then Georgia after that, is in a different spot. The Eagles come in with an interim head coach, Dave Hewett, and some important changes in player availability.
For sure, the Eagles will miss players like Chris Baumann and Tony Lamborn (assuming he does, in fact, miss out because of a suspension earned during a Hawke’s Bay match). Lamborn has excelled as an Eagle in every facet of play. The disappointment of the players not available is tempered considerably by the players who are available, especially Blaine Scully and Samu Manoa.
One might be tempted to look at the recent Americas Pacific Challenge and the way the USA Select XV played there. However, there were different coaches involved, and the readiness to attack from deep shown in Uruguay was surely more about developing skills than winning matches. And the full Eagles need to win matches.
Germany, especially in the first half, was able to push Brazil around in a way that they should not be able to push around the Eagles. The mistakes, mental and physical, are the kind of mistakes that should be rare for this squad of American players.
Scrums and lineouts, for both sides, are likely to be a bit of a mess. If the Eagles are able to secure clean ball and a strong attacking platform, the match will not be close. If they struggle with lineouts and scrums, Germany might still be within striking distance into the second half. Regardless of how set pieces go, the Eagles have the depth and fitness to finish well and build toward the challenge of Georgia.