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But there is more than just blind rotation factored into the choice of Petri over Shaw for the USA scrumhalf job this weekend against Ireland.
One aspect is that Petri is a really strong tackler. His defense might well be a key factor in Saturday evening’s game at BBVA Compass Stadium, as he will need to contain a shifty Isaac Boss.
Offensively Petri has a big role, too. Key in this is his passing. Petri is a terrific passer from the ground. His release is as quick as anyone’s in the game – a grossly overlooked skill.
And in this Lions Tour year, when the Lions are touring Australia, it’s worth taking a lesson from the last tour of Oz for the British & Irish Lions.
In 2001, the Lions crushed the Wallabies in the opening match, and led 11-6 at halftime of the second. After that, it was all Australia, as the Wallabies outscore the Lions 29-3 in the second half, and won the third match 29-23. The one element that changed at halftime of that second game was the injury to scrumhalf Rob Howley.
A passer from the ground, Howley’s pass was very fast and accurate. The
ball went from ground to flyhalf’s hands in less than a second (it seemed),
and that gave extra time for the Lions backs to attack. Without Howley, the
Lions went to Matt Dawson, a fine scrumhalf, but a crow-hopper who took
three times as long to get the ball out. A rushing Australia defense took
care of the rest.
That’s the issue between Petri and Shaw. Against Canada, Shaw, admittedly asked to run to fix the Canadian defense, took too long to get the ball in Toby L’Estrange’s hands – sometimes far too long. Given the chance, surely he will speed up the delivery, but Petri is very quick. The USA backs will need all the time they can get.
So the change centers around speed of delivery on attack. The Eagles rightly believe they have attacking ability out wide. But for that to be unleashed, they need the ball out there quickly.