Friday, 11 November 2016

November 2016 preview: USA

Image result for USA rugby USA (vs Maori All Blacks, Romania & Tonga)

Like many Tier 2 squads, the USA under new coach John Mitchell have had a high turnover of players this year. Performances have been mixed so far, but there is still much unknown about this group with them really not having many opportunities as of yet to play at full strength under Mitchell.

For some reason, unlike most other nations, the USA only played two tests in this year's June international window, and are only playing two tests in the November window as well. Only having your full strength team play three tests in a year against top 20 ranked opponents is a pitiful amount frankly, and has unfortunately slowed down the process of rebuilding his squad post RWC. That they've been short of matches against anybody, let alone top 20 ranked opponents makes it even worse though, it's puzzling as to why not even a match against a side like Spain or Belgium couldn't have been organised.

Apart from the injured Aj MacGinty and Greg Peterson, most the Eagles' bigger names playing in elite level leagues around the world have returned to the squad this November. Some such as Samu Manoa for the first time since the RWC, and others such as Marcel Brache for the first time.

As mentioned before, this group of players has not really played together for any significant period yet, so a lot will depend on how quickly the coaching staff of Mitchell, Phil Greening and Mike Friday can knit them together as a unit, and how well some of the newer players especially in the tight five take to this level of international rugby.

On paper they should be favourites against Romania and have a decent chance against Tonga (two opponents the Eagles had contrasting records against under Tolkin). However the Oaks have several more matches under their belt this year and are not adapting to a new coach, whilst Tonga despite being in a major rebuilding period themselves have more solid depth to call upon.

Both Eagles tests this November could go either way, and should give a good early indication of where the USA currently stand amongst Tier 2 nations. A successful European tour, and in particular a win over Tonga (which Tolkin never managed) would give Mitchell a good platform to lead into 2017 with.

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