November’s international rugby kicks off on Friday with an intriguing game at Toyota Park, Chicago, between USA and the Maori All Blacks.
It’s been a mixed 2016 for the Eagles as they have defeated Canada, Chile and Russia but suffered defeats to Brazil, Uruguay and Italy.
On Friday they will face their toughest opponent this year and subsequently need to hit the ground running in order to avoid a heavy loss.
It is a Maori side bursting with talent and it could be a long night for USA with so many of their visitors impressing in the Mitre 10 Cup.
Players to watch out for will of course be Akira Ioane and Kara Pryor in the back-row while Matt Proctor and James Lowe will offer plenty. If they can get their hands on decent ball – which is likely with both often utilised in a first receiver role – expect them to cut loose.
Head coach Colin Cooper has settled on Tawera Kerr-Barlow and Ihaia West as his half-back combination for this opening match and the fly-half position was an interesting dilemma for him after Otere Black and the in-form Marty McKenzie were also included in the touring squad.
For USA back-row forward Todd Clever will captain their side while Nick Civetta and Titi Lamositele were made available by their Premiership clubs outside of the international Test window, and earn spots in the starting XV.
Clever, Lamositele, and starting inside centre Folau Niua are the only three players in the squad that faced the Maori All Blacks on their most recent visit to the USA – a November 2013 defeat of the home side in Philadelphia.
“Culturally the Maori All Blacks bond extremely well and have their own spirit and ethos as a result of their wonderful Maori culture,” said head coach John Mitchell when speaking to USA Rugby ahead of an intriguing contest.
“They’ve also got the British and Irish Lions tour next year to look forward to, so a lot of these layers will be looking to impress.
“The boys have a tough job ahead of them but they’ve trained smarter and we have challenged them in the decision-making space, and they are motivated for this match against arguably the best non-test team in the world.”
USA: 15 Mike Te’o, 14 Martin Iosefo, 13 Bryce Campbell, 12 Folau Niua, 11 Matai Leuta, 10 Will Holder, 9 Nate Augspurger, 8 Danny Barrett, 7 Tony Lamborn, 6 Todd Clever (c), 5 Nick Civetta, 4 Nate Brakeley, 3 Chris Baumann, 2 James Hilterbrand, 1 Titi Lamositele
Replacements: 16 Joe Taufete’e, 17 Angus MacLellan, 18 Alex Maughan 19 Matthew Jensen, 20 Al McFarland, 21 Stephen Tomasin, 22 Shalom Suniula, 23 Madison Hughes
Maori All Blacks: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Rieko Ioane, 13 Matt Proctor, 12 Tim Bateman, 11 James Lowe, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Kara Pryor, 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Jacob Skeen, 3 Ben May, 2 Ash Dixon (c), 1 Kane Hames
Replacements: 16 Joe Royal, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Marcel Renata, 19 Leighton Price, 20 Shane Christie, 21 Brad Weber, 22 Marty McKenzie, 23 Sean Wainui
Date: Friday, November 4
Venue: Toyota Park, Chicago
Kick-off: 19:00 local (0:00 GMT)