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(The starting squad is expected to be announced shortly)
The weather in Langford, BC has been chilly and will likely be a little
damp as fall in the Northwest has finally decided to arrive. The game will
be played on an artificial turf field at Westhills Stadium, and a surface
that is normally narrow for rugby has been made more narrow by
So it will be a tight, hard-nosed game, played in the trenches.
A greasy ball could mean a lot of scrums, something the USA team will probably want to avoid. The USA forwards worked hard on their scrimmaging in San Francisco, but it’s still considered an area of, shall we say, less than strength. Argentina, for their part, are going to have an excellent scrum.
The Jaguars will also likely want to kick, hoping, for sure, that such kicks will be muffed, forcing a scrum in USA territory. If that happens, then it’s a long day for the USA Selects. However, it will be breezy, too, in Langford. On a narrow pitch, you might see the wind carry wiper kicks out on the full. Then a Jaguar kick for territory might end up being a USA lineout at midfield.
All of those factors are in play.
For USA Head Coach Mike Tolkin, there are so many unknowns, it’s hard to put a specific goal – such as winning the game – down on paper. Tolkin knows he has a young team of players who, for the most part, don’t know each other well. The Jaguars are more familiar with each other.
So he is looking for cultural goals – asking players to show that they know how to play Eagles rugby.
“I want them the walk off the field, both the USA and Argentina, feeling as if they’ve really been in a game,” Tolkin told RUGBYMag.com. “Win lose or draw, I want us to make that sort of statement.”
Tolkin said with a young team it will take a while to get on track, “but regardless of how little time we’ve had together, playing tough, performing like athletes, and performing as a team, or things we can do.”
This is a pressure environment, and Tolkin wants to test each player’s ability to play under that pressure, and “continue the fighting attitude we developed this past summer with the Eagles.”
That’s the message – tough it out, be proud, be aggressive.
Tolkin said the scrum will be a challenge, but there’s a lot more to the game than that. He feels very strong about the lineout.
“We’ve got some tall lumber in our back five, which is good,” he said. Gavin Hickie is helping the team with their lineout work. “We hope we can win ball consistently.”
In the backs, Tolkin said the team will keep it simple “but we’re looking to expand. If we execute, we can make it a little more complex. But we’ll keep it a small menu. We have some good runners, players with good skill, and players who can bang the ball downfield.”
So what type of USA Selects team will you see on Friday? One that will play hard and with pride – all the players say they are immensely proud to wear that Eagle on their chest, even if this isn’t a full capped test.
“All of the guys have been working really hard,” enthused Tolkin. “Everyone
has a really great attitude.”
But will they be tactically smart? Tolkin will certainly want to play a field-position game, and he will expect his players to be strong at the point of contact. He will want his midfield to bash their opponents, and his front row - under pressure in the scrum for sure - to get payback in the rucks.
He will need his kickers to be precise, and he really, really will need his deep three and No. 8 to field kicks cleanly. This could well be an old-fashioned blood-and-thunder, up-and-under game. All you can say to the players is, welcome to The Show, go get 'em.