The USA is expected to start a completely unfamiliar halfback combo Friday against Russia, as Robbie Shaw, who hasn’t been capped since 2008, and uncapped Toby L’Estrange suit up at scrumhalf and flyhalf, respectively.
The two have been working hard this week to get on the same page, and understand they are a critical link between a pretty experienced pack and a talented set of veteran outside backs.
The two laughingly acknowledged they had never met before this week, and now are looking to form a crucial tandem in a test match.
“I like the style Toby plays,” said Shaw, who has been playing for Richmond in England, while L’Estrange is with NYAC. “He takes the ball going forward. He’s aggressive as a 10 and is not afraid to carry, which I like.”
“We have spent all week trying to get used to each other and the conditions,” added L’Estrange. “It’s been good to link up with Robbie. He’s a very assertive halfback and a great guy to have around. I think we’re getting a good understanding of where each of us will be in the game.”
Communication between the two is crucial.
“You have to learn to pick your flyhalf’s voice out of a crowd,” said Shaw. “We’re getting there. With Toby standing a lot flatter, he’s standing in front of people so he’s easier to pick out.”
The conditions are also a factor for this weekend. The weather has been chilly (in the 50s), rainy, and windy, and Friday evening promises more of the same. That will mean both halfbacks will need to be on their kicking game, and at the same time need to recognize when the attacking options are on.
“We’ve been working very hard on our exit,” said Shaw. “We’ve got a lot of new guys on the team and a lot of new ways to play, so we’re all getting our heads around what we want to do on the pitch.”
“Kicking is an important part of any #10’s game,” added L’Estrange, who could well be taking the kicks at goal, as well. “Windy conditions are what we expect but I don’t want to take away from our ambitions to play the game. We have some hard running centers and we want to get them involved.”
Both L’Estrange and Shaw had plenty of good things to say about the rest of the team. Shaw is working closely with captain Todd Clever at the back of the scrum and that’s been going well, while L’Estrange, for all his abilities running with the ball, is keenly away that the likes of Andrew and Roland Suniula, Paul Emerick, Luke Hume, and Chris Wyles gives him many options out wide.
“I am looking to get the best out of the guys,” he said. “The talent is pretty exceptional. Robbie and I just need to take control and give them the opportunity.”
“They’re not just athletes,” added Shaw. “We’ve got a bunch of guys with incredible knowledge of the game, and it’s really great to see everyone stepping up.”