Scott Lawrence's Eagles Look To End 2023 Season On Positive Note Vs. Spain
Scott Lawrence's Eagles Look To End 2023 Season On Positive Note Vs. Spain
Follow the United States men's rugby team's journey, as the Eagles rebuild after missing the 2023 Rugby World Cup. They're aiming for victory against Spain.
Sitting at home watching the 2023 Rugby World Cup occur without them in it, the United States men’s rugby national team was forced to go back to the drawing board.
Featuring a new coach and a lot of new faces, the wheels are beginning to turn — and the Eagles could reach a strong new milestone this weekend in their new era.
A dangerous Spain team, which ran through the Americans’ northern neighbor last week, stands in the way of the United States reaching that pedestal, however, but strong signs of growth at the La Vila International Rugby Cup have been present in the Eagles squad, evidenced by the fact that they won their semifinal match in the tournament last week in strong fashion.
Can a relatively inexperienced roster run the gamut and return back home with a cup title — and close the career of a World Cup veteran on a high note, too?
Here’s a look ahead at the United States’ match against Spain this weekend, as the Eagles look to close out 2023 on a high note away from home in Villajoyosa, Spain:
With no World Cup to compete in, as the United States failed to qualify for this year’s recently completed tournament in France, the Eagles have been focused throughout 2023 on rebuilding and restoring the squad in preparation for the qualification cycle of the 2027 World Cup in Australia and — arguably more importantly for the state of American rugby as a whole — a home World Cup in 2031.
There is a possible step forward up for grabs for the still-growing squad against Spain this weekend, however, in what will be the Eagles’ final match of the calendar year: by way of winning some silverware.
With the team being part of the four-team La Vila International Rugby Cup Field, which additionally features Canada, Brazil and host Spain, the United States qualified for the cup final by way of blowing past Brazil by a 48-3 margin last weekend in the semifinal.
A hat trick debut 🤯— USA Rugby (@USARugby) November 15, 2023
Three for three for Joe Mano against Brazil 👏
🎥 RugbyPass pic.twitter.com/3mNTVg30eA
Utah Warriors winger Joe Mano was spectacular in his international debut against the Tupis, scoring a first-half hat trick, as the Eagles finished with eight tries in all — all of which were scored by players who have earned their first senior caps this year for the United States — against the South Americans.
Meanwhile, Spain made it to the cup final by way of taking down Canada in an impressive 42-20 display in their own semifinal, rolling out to a 35-6 halftime lead and cruising from there as the Europeans had a brace within 15 minutes from scrum-half Tani Bay, among other impressive performances.
Interim coach Scott Lawrence, who took over the Eagles after Gary Gold stepped down following the Americans’ exit from World Cup contention, was pleased with how the attack grew and made its presence felt against Brazil and is welcoming the challenge that Los Leones will bring, especially with the two countries being separated by just one spot (USA 18th, Spain 19th) in the most recent World Rugby Rankings.
However, the idea of potentially bringing back a trophy with the victory has less significance to him.
“Spain is an exciting team to watch and wonderful at the line skills," Lawrence said. "There is a real sense of creativity in the opportunities they take. The silverware part is irrelevant. We get to represent the United States of America in our chosen sport. Every game has a responsibility to perform at our very best.”
Growing Into It
It’s no secret that the Eagles are in a bit of a transitional period and are trying to build an identity after heartbreak, and that’s clearly shown in Lawrence’s squad selection.
A vast majority of the Eagles’ matchday 23 is homegrown and currently playing at club level in Major League Rugby, as Lawrence has made several changes to the starting XV who routed Brazil.
Seattle Seawolves prop Jake Turnbull makes the move from the bench to loosehead, while Toulouse’s David Ainu’u joins him in the front row at tighthead. Mano and vice-captain Nate Augspurger will switch sides on the wings, as Mano will scamper down the left, following his hat trick from the right against the Tupis.
Australia-born Utah Warriors flanker (and the club’s captain) Bailey Wilson will be on the bench as the Eagles’ only uncapped player on the squad, and he’s one of the many Eagles who are getting used to the international game, as 13 of the 23 have less than five caps.
Veterans like second-rower Cam Dolan (66 caps) and center Bryce Campbell (43 caps) are sprinkled throughout the roster, but all in all, this United States squad is one trying to build cohesion and chemistry for the future — exactly the point with crucial moments for the national team ahead of them throughout the next few years.
Lawrence, through four matches in charge, is encouraged by what he’s seeing so far develop in front of him.
“I think Joe (Mano) would agree that the tries (against Brazil) were the result of the team’s effort, which was our highest workload yet this year,” Lawrence said. “I’m most encouraged by the work (Head of Athlete Performance) Alex Ross has done with the men to get to the minimum requirements for the way we want to play.”
Brakeley’s Last Ride
Saturday’s match will be a bittersweet one for lock Nate Brakeley, the 34-year-old Rugby New York and World Cup veteran who is expected to start for the Eagles against Spain and earn his 34th cap.
The reason? It’s because the Massachusetts-born Brakeley is set to play his final international test match this weekend against Los Leones.
Brakeley, who made his senior debut in 2016 against Canada, wore the captain’s armband for the very first time against Brazil and will wear it again against Spain to close out a fruitful career with the Eagles; his accomplishments have included being part of a victorious Americas Rugby Championship squad and playing in the 2019 World Cup in Japan, but he noted to FloRugby that he also has appreciated bonding with the many figures that have crossed paths with him as part of the national team over the years.
“My fondest memories obviously include the rugby highs — my first cap, winning the ARC, playing in the World Cup — but also the more mundane things: coffees with the boys, having my wife and family at my matches and traveling the world,” Brakeley said. “I'm just trying to enjoy the moment and soak everything in. It's such a privilege to represent the USA, but at the end of the day I'm playing rugby with my best mates, and I don't want to overthink that.”
When asked about Brakeley’s impact throughout the years, Lawrence lauded the lock and appreciated his standard set for success that has rubbed off on others on the Eagles that have come after him.
In Spain, with a trophy on the line, one more example could come about as Brakeley bids adieu to international rugby.
“Nate has always answered the call for the Eagles and has been a servant to this team with consistent day-in and day-out work ethic,” Lawrence said. “Joe Mano is the 100th Eagle since Nate’s first game, which tells us just how many Eagles he’s had a chance to impact with his example.”
- Jake Turnbull
- Dylan Fawsitt
- David Ainu’u
- Nate Brakeley (C)
- Cam Dolan
- Sam Golla
- Paddy Ryan
- Luke White
- Nick McCarthy
- Luke Carty
- Joe Mano
- Tommaso Boni
- Tavite Lopeti
- Nate Augspurger
- Chris Mattina
- Peter Malcolm
- Nate Sylvia
- Alex Maughan
- Bailey Wilson
- Siaosi Mahoni
- Thomas Tu’avao
- Mitch Wilson
- Bryce Campbell
- Thierry Futeu
- Santi Ovejero
- Joaquin Dominguez
- Mario Pichardie (C)
- Alejandro Suarez
- Matt Foulds
- Facu Dominguez
- Ekain Imaz
- Tani Bay
- Inaki Mateu
- Martiniano Cian
- Alvar Cimeno
- Federico Casteglioni
- Jordi Jorba
- John Wessel Bell
- Vicente del Hoyo
- Nicolas Fernandez
- Marcos Muniz
- Pepe Borraz
- Matheo Triki
- Ike Irusta
- Joaquin Cali
- Pau Aira
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