Set piece remains a central issue for the USA team as they look ahead to Friday’s match against Russia in Colwyn Bay.
The Eagles need to control kickoffs and restarts, kick their goals, secure the scrum, and dominate the lineouts.
All of these are important. The scrum has been under pressure in most of their recent games, and so a great deal of work continues to be put into that part of the game. Scrumhalf Robbie Shaw, who has been around the pack this week and seeing how they operate, says the scrum continues to improve.
And at No. 8, Todd Clever will have a lot of work to do to make sure possession is clean, and if it’s not clean, it’s at least cleaned up.
Up front, the USA has reason to be optimistic. Shawn Pittman spent the last month in Ireland working directly with USA scrum coach Derek Dowling and training and playing with Trinity. The scrum has been his main focus, and according to USA assistant coach Dan Payne, Pittman continues to look better and better. Pittman looks to slot in as tighthead prop, while Eric Fry should be at loosehead. Fry spent the summer and fall with the Manawatu Turbos in New Zealand, where he started most games and worked on all of the aspects of prop play, but again the scrum has been central.
All the scrum needs to be is be solid long enough to win decent possession, and to have in its arsenal one or two moments where they can disrupt the opposing put-in. If that happens, their day becomes much easier.
Meanwhile, when it comes to the lineout, the Eagles expect much more. They have at least four legitimate jumpers in Todd Clever, Scott LaValla, Lou Stanfill, and Brian Doyle. On the subs bench they will have more. Payne said the system is in place, and with basically the same forward pack back for from June, it’s now a case of honing that system, and adding a few wrinkles.
Honing is more important. The USA has to be dominant in the lineout, especially if, on a windy, rainy day in Colwyn Bay, the game against Russia becomes a game of field position. Kicking to touch is all well and good, but it’s even better if you can steal a couple of lineout throws, and if you can make your own throws count.
The lineout remains the best platform for the USA in creating tries, so it will have to operate accurately.
Closely related to the lineout, in that it requires good skills in the air, are the restarts. The Americans will benefit from controlling the restarts, especially as Russia will want to exert as much pressure as possible when they kick into US territory.
And kicking from the tee? We’ll discuss that in another article. Suffice to say, it’s crucial.