Mike Tolkin's changes for the Eagles to face Georgia have mostly been forced on him, but the upshot, whether he wanted to adjust the team or not, is that the USA had a good chance to beat Georgia.
It's worth noting that the last time the USA played Georgia in Tbilisi, Georgia won 19-17 in the final seconds.
"Obviously it was a tough day as we lost in the last play of the game and I thought we played well that day and deserved the victory," said Chris Wyles, who played fullback in that game in 2010 and kicked a drop goal, and will line up at fullback Saturday. But, now, he said, that's all past. "I'm more concerned about our group now and looking forward to the challenge this weekend."
And it will be a challenge. Georgia was in a now notoriously chippy game against Canada last week, a game the Lelos won.
"The thing about that sort of game is that you've got to stand up for yourself and for your teammates, but you have to stay level-headed," said lock Graham Harriman, who keeps his starting spot. "Be aggressive, do your job, and show your teammates you've got their backs. I grew up playing hockey and I am comfortable with the idea of protecting my teammates, but staying level-headed."
And that's the team Tolkin wants, which is why he picked the players he picked.
In the front row, he has no changes, because all three players played well. He has opted to rest Titi Lamositele and will likely start the teenager against Russia. Ollie Kilifi and Eric Fry get time on the bench. This front row is physicaly tough, and also extremely mobile; it's their mobility that will make the difference.
In the second row, Harriman, who played very well last week, returns, and with Tai Tuisamoa back home for this week, the addition of Samu Manoa is a big one. Manoa got his first cap against Georgia in that 19-17 game in 2010. He's a different player now - stronger, more confident, and more knowledgeable. He is a game-changer who can run in the open field and loves to hit. He is an intimidating presence, but a calming one as he doesn't take the physical stuff personally. This could be his best hour for the USA so far.
Another change is forced in the back row, as Scott LaValla remains inured (but could be back in a week!) and Peter Dahl had to go home for work reasons. This is where Tolkin had to make his toughest decision, as he had Inaki Basauri, Derek Asbun, and John Quill as options. In the end he chose all of the above, starting Asbun and putting Quill and Basauri on the bench.
The thinking behind this? Quill is coming back from injury; he has played a few games, but perhaps not enough to guarantee 80 minutes. Basauri, llikewise, has been coming off injury. Both are on the bench because Basauri can also play lock.
What Asbun brings is a high work rate and physical strength. He is level-headed, intelligent, and versatile.
Obviously Todd Clever, who reveled in the position of blindside flanker, and Cam Dolan, who had an excellent game at No.8, are logical to return.
In the backs, Mike Petri did very well at scrumhalf, and it's logical he returns, and likewise Andrew Suniula at inside center.
But Tolkin had other choices to make. With flyhalf Toby L'Estrange hurt, should be bring Folau Niua, Adam Siddall, or Zach Pangelinan in at #10? Add to that the arrival of Chris Wyles (inside center, outside center, wing or fullback), and Blaine Scully (wing or fullback or maybe center) the various combinations were myriad.
In the end, Tolkin went with Siddall at flyhalf because he had been training there (although not as much as expected), and his goalkicking has been very strong.
Tolkin likes what Niua brings to the team, and he's looking for some offense, so puts him in at outside center in favor of Seamus Kelly, who didn't do anything wrong, really, but is just not starting this time.
So, logically, the solid Wyles goes in at fullback and Scully, who has played very well at wing for Leicester, plays wing.
The big surprise, actually, is Tim Maupin stays and Luke Hume does not. Why? Well it could be because Hume is being kept back as a secret weapon impact sub. It could be because Maupin deserves a starting cap. It could be because Hume, for all his good points, can be hot-headed, and in a game where the tension is high, perhaps he is best kept on the bench (this would be a weird reason why if only because someone like Hume can't vent his frustrations on the bench, and once he runs onto the field would be ready to explode).
Overall, Tolkin has made a decision based around an exciting, mobile, but powerful team. His new defensive scheme, put together by former NYAC player Phil Bailey, forces teams to play wide, and if Georgia plays wide, the USA probably has the advantage.
Manoa brings an extra backpack full of power to the game, while Siddall is a physical #10 who will ask questions of the Lelos backline.
This is a team that can run on Georgia. But it will be the guys in the ruck who decide if that actually happens.