The Eagles impressed many with their spirit and physical play during a 22-10 loss to Ireland on Sunday — a particularly poignant day for an American team playing on Sept. 11 with a coach going against his old team.
But the U.S. took a beating up front, losing battles at the scrum and failing to execute on their line-outs. Coach Eddie O’Sullivan knows his squad will need to tighten things up to score a win against Russia on short rest.
“We were cut up a bit on Sunday by the Irish pack” O’Sullivan said. “A bit of it was inexperience. We got crowded at the mark which didn’t suit us.
“Ireland were a bigger pack and we needed a bit of space to engage to give us a small bit of momentum.”
The Eagles will mix things up with some fresh legs from prop Matekitonga Moeakiola and hooker Chris Biller replacing Phil Thiel and Shawn Pittman — changes that should help fortify the front row.
If Sunday’s match was a classic contender vs. “minnows” battle which the Americans had no business winning, Thursday’s clash with Russia is one they absolutely can win. The Eagles lead their all-time series 3-1 and beat the Bears 32-25 at the Churchill Cup in June in England.
This is Russia’s first match of the tournament, meaning they will be the fresher of the two sides by a long shot, but may not be ready for the grand stage and bright lights. If the U.S. carry momentum from Paul Emerick’s try on the final play of the Ireland match, they stand a good chance of evening their record at 1-1 in Pool C.
The match kicks off at 3:30 a.m. EST Thursday, and will be shown live on NBC’s Universal Sports channel, so set your DVR.