USA v. Samoa by the Numbers: What to Watch For
The first match at Rugby World Cup 2015 for both of these two nations will be a tough one.
In many ways, the teams are very evenly matched. Both teams are ranked in the second-10 of the world (Samoa 12, USA 15), and both teams have an average weight per player of 238 lbs. Samoa players average 29 years old, while the Eagles are just over 27 years old. Conversely, the Eagles have more experience with an average of 18 caps to Samoa's 16.
The teams met each other this summer during the Pacific Nations Cup tournament, which Samoa won by a score of 21-16. In fact, USA has yet to beat Samoa in their four previous encounters dating back to 1999. The islanders will be eager to keep that streak going.
Samoa is coming off a loss to the New Zealand All Blacks who, for the first time ever, came to Samoa for a match. Samoa played with much heart in this historic match, but ended up on the wrong side of a 25-16 final.
The best measure of where the teams are may be this summer's Pacific Nations Cup competition. Samoa finished second, losing in the final to Fiji. USA was able to beat to Canada to finish fifth.
The Eagles have new leadership in captain Chris Wyles. The fullback / winger is a seasoned pro who plays for the Saracens in England. The Samoa match will be his first at the helm during a World Cup, so his team will be looking to Wyles and his reaction to the international spotlight.
If he keeps his normal focus, the team will benefit.
By many measures, Samoa has the advantage in number of world-class players. Most members of Samoa national team play professionally in the top competitions such as England rugby's Aviva Premiership, France's Top 14, The Celtic Nation's Guinness Pro 12, or the Southern Hemisphere's Super Rugby.
Overall, look for Samoa to test the Eagle backs with attacking play from anywhere on the field. Wyles and his back row companions will also have to be confident and proficient in the tackles and try to win a couple turnovers in the rucks to keep up with the offensive-minded islanders.
If the Eagles can get to halftime and beyond and still be within a score or two of Samoa, they will have a chance to upset the favored islanders.
An area to watch during the match is the scrum, specifically front row play.
Samoa has included a last-minute prop Census Johnson in their team. Johnson tips the scales at almost 300 lbs. He could be matched against Eagle Eric Fry. Fry plays for the Newcastle Falcons in England and may be the Eagle's best front rower, but can be seen as undersized at 260 lbs. If this mismatch goes in Samoa's favor and the Samoa scrum proves superior, the Eagles will be forced to set up their attack from an unstable scrum or even one that is moving backward.
The likely other Eagles in the front row for the Samoa match will be Titi Lamositele at tighthead and Zach Fenoglio at hooker. If these three Eagles provide a stable scrum, the backs will be able to attack better and gain valuable yards from the set piece.
When given space and time, Eagles backs are powerful and difficult to bring to the floor.
For this match, getting that advantage may all start up front.