Alex Goff analyzes the USA's World Cup opener against Ireland.
The USA team has not held back much in preparation for Sunday’s clash with Ireland in New Plymouth.
There was no discussion of benching a player or two to rest for Russia. If that happened to anyone, it was Chris Wyles, and that was related in part to his injury.
Every other selection choice has been on form. Roland Suniula, somewhat more of a running flyhalf then Nese Malifa (but not by much), has been selected ahead of the man who has been the regular #10 for two seasons now.
That selection choice seemed almost inevitable, given how Malifa is still a bit beat up from the past couple of years, and how the USA offense has struggled.
Whether Suniula, partnering with his older brother, Andrew, who plays inside center, can turn pressure into points is yet to be seen. It wasn’t Nese Malifa’s signature on the game plan, and Malifa wasn’t the one absent in support.
Mike Petri is confirmed the #1 scrumhalf, and there are few surprises elsewhere. Certainly one could argue for hard-running Mate Moeakiola over the grittier Mike MacDonald, but in the wind, rain and slop promised at Taranaki Stadium, Big Mac looks to be the right call.
Scott LaValla might feel hard-done by to be on the bench, but it is very close between him and John van der Giessen.
On recent form, the back row selects itself, as does center Paul Emerick, wing Taku Ngwenya (who looked bright-eyes and poised to strike during the captain’s run) and Blaine Scully.
The remaining question is left wing. Kevin Swiryn is dropped, for now, on form, with James Paterson your man in #11. Paterson also looks to be the goalkicker against Ireland.
Swiryn is not even on the bench, as Colin Hawley gets the nod. He is picked in part because the Eagles have versatility at center – should a center go down, Roland Suniula or Paterson can slot in. Therefore Hawley, primarily a wing/fullback, is chosen mainly for his dependable defense.
The other bench choice of note is that of Pat Danahy. In serious danger of being left home, Danahy was superb against Japan and has simply forced Eddie O’Sullivan to pick him. As a late-game impact sub he has emerged as a weapon.
Now to the game. The USA has to be almost perfect to win this game. They can’t afford to knock the ball on. They can’t afford to miss tackles. They can’t afford to let penalties in the Irish zone go unpunished.
They also have to unleash the dogs of war on defense. They are expected to try to take space away from the Irish and put them under pressure.
Ireland’s relatively inexperienced halfback combo will almost certainly be targeted.
But as these honeyed words are being written, a sou’wester of some intensity is bettering Taranaki Province. This game might well be played on a surface that is less lush, soft grass and more swamp-like. Stadium Taranaki’s grass is beautiful, but on the captain’s run on Saturday the Eagles concluded they needed their longest cleats for the match. After this morning’s deluge, perhaps some stilts will be in order.
This won’t, then, be a dry-pitch runaway. It could be a muddy slugfest. It will be, wet or dry, intense.