It’s time for round 2 of the Americas 2 World Cup qualifier between Uruguay and the United States, and this one is for all the marbles after the draw in Montevideo. The Eagles could not have put themselves in a worse position. They should have been a lock on points already, but instead will have to work hard for victory against a resilient underdog filled with confidence. On top of this the weather looks like it will be messy, with thundershowers forecast all morning and rain likely during the match. American fans might get their victory, but it won’t be pretty.
Los Teros have, as expected, named the same side that confounded the Eagles at the Estadio Charrúa, with the only change coming in the reserves as uncapped hooker Carlos Pombo fills in for Nicolás Klappenbach, who has stayed home to be with his newborn child. Halfbacks Agustín Ormaechea and Felipe Berchesi impressed in the first round and should feature prominently again. Up front the scrum was in control all game, and there’s no reason to think that will change tomorrow.
Sensing a need to freshen up, Mike Tolkin has made three changes. Luke Hume replaces Tim Maupin on the left wing, Seamus Kelly comes in for Folau Niua at outside centre, and Hayden Smith is dropped completely with Louis Stanfill starting at lock and Tai Tuisamoa called up to the bench. Smith looked unfit in the first match, begging the question why he was starting in the first place, but for all Stanfill’s experience he is much smaller and not likely to shore up a creaky scrum. Starting Tuisamoa might have been a more sensible option.
Kelly’s selection is a bit mystifying, with Tolkin claiming that he was “better suited” to face Uruguay than Niua. One assumes this means that more territorial game is on the cards, given that Kelly is a traditional running and tackling centre and Niua the creator. If that is indeed the case, why was Hume preferred to Maupin, when the latter is clearly preferential under the high ball? It’s this kind of inconsistent selection that has Eagle fans scratching their heads.
This game is going to be sloppy, there’s no way around it. Of the two, Los Teros looked the more organized, if limited, and a few extra days together isn’t going to reinvent the wheel. The Eagles will no doubt take a more pragmatic approach that will inevitably lead to more set pieces, which is exactly what they should be trying to avoid. The home field advantage will be negated somewhat by the weather and keep this close. Expect Team Tolkin to win, but it’ll be a nail-biter, probably by around 5 points. It certainly won’t be a scorching advertisement for American rugby.
UNITED STATES vs URUGUAY
Saturday, March 29, 15:00 EST, Kennesaw
Referee: Greg Garner (RFU)
Assistants: David Smortchevsky (RC) & Andrew McMaster (RC)
TMO: Jim Yuille (SRU)