The Eagles have finally landed in Europe and will play the first of a truncated November test program against a team that shares the same mascot in Germany. Despite being only five spots apart on the World Rugby Rankings they have never before met in a test match. On Saturday they do so at the Brita Arena in Wiesbaden, located in the heartland of German rugby with Heidelberg and Frankfurt short drives away.
Germany enter as underdogs but not overwhelmingly so. They thrashed Brazil in Leipzig last weekend and have both continuity and home field advantage on their side. Much of the team, in fact, play together on a regular basis with 10 of the starting side and another three on the bench coming from the fully professional Heidelberger RK club. A sprinkling of France-based expats and qualified UK talent bolster the roster with only three coming from smaller semi-pro German sides.
Head coach Kobus Potgieter was not entirely satisfied with the performance against the Tupis but has retained the majority of the team making only three personnel changes to the run-on side. Julius Nostadt is restored to the No 1 shirt having recently signed as a medical joker with Pro D2 club Aurillac.
First choice goal kicker Christopher Hilsenbeck returns from Vannes to play flyhalf, and there is a debut for Hagen Schulte at fullback. The 25-year-old New Zealander spent the 2016-17 season on contract with Glasgow Warriors though he was frequently on loan to Glasgow Hawks.
A backline shuffle sees Raynor Parkinson and newcomer Wynston Cameron-Dow push out one spot to inside and outside center respectively, with Mathieu Ducau sliding to the right wing. Marcel Coetzee shifts from fullback to the left wing, and Pierre Mathurin drops to the bench to cover scrumhalf with Tim Menzel dropping out completely.
Two further changes are made in the reserves. Strasbourg hooker Mikael Tyumenev returns though he’ll have to wait his turn as a replacement, and there is a debut in store for Old Elthamians lock Adam Preocanin, formerly of Ealing Trailfinders and London Scottish in the English second division.
Interim caretaker Dave Hewett has named his strongest available USA side featuring nine overseas professionals in the starting lineup. The forwards are much-changed from the side that defeated Canada in San Diego with Olive Kilifi, Joe Taufete’e, and Dino Waldren the new front row. Glasgow Warriors lock Greg Peterson returns for the first time in over a year and Andrew Durutalo is promoted to the run-on side after impressing with both Ealing and new club Worcester in recent weeks. Ben Landry is named on the blindside having trialed at the position during the Americas Pacific Challenge.
The backs are largely the same though the configuration is slightly different. Shaun Davies gets the nod over Nate Augspurger at scrumhalf and Blaine Scully returns to captain the side and starts on the right wing. Mike Te’o moves to his favored fullback position and the midfield swaps jerseys with Bryce Campbell getting a look at inside center and Marcel Brache outside him.
Former UK professionals Paddy Ryan and Cam Dolan have to settle for reserve roles and there is one new cap alongside on the bench. Life West prop Huluholo Mo’ungaloa is called up to replace the injured Eric Fry and should made his test debut after performing well for the USA Select XV in Montevideo.
The Eagles will be keen to grab some momentum ahead of the difficult challenge that awaits in Tbilisi next week but must not get ahead of themselves, this is very close to the strongest possible German side. Their strength in the scrum was very evident in Leipzig and something the USA will be wary of.
Out wide, however, the visitors appear to have a significant advantage and with the weight of World Cup Qualification off their shoulders the Eagles will be free to play attacking rugby. Expect a competitive match but ultimately the North Americans should prove the superior side.
1 Julius Nostadt, 2 Dasch Barber, 3 Samy Füchsel, 4 Michael Poppmeier, 5 Eric Marks, 6 Sebastian Ferreira, 7 Jaco Otto, 8 Ayron Schramm, 9 Sean Armstrong (capt.), 10 Christopher Hilsenbeck, 11 Marcel Coetzee, 12 Raynor Parkinson, 13 Wynston Cameron-Dow, 14 Mathieu Ducau, 15 Hagen Schulte
Replacements: 16 Mikael Tyumenev, 17 Jörn Schröder, 18 Antony Dickinson, 19 Adam Preocanin, 20 Marcel Henn, 21 Pierre Mathurin, 22 Jamie Murphy, 23 Steffen Liebig
1 Olive Kilifi, 2 Joe Taufete’e, 3 Dino Waldren, 4 Greg Peterson, 5 Nick Civetta, 6 Ben Landry, 7 Tony Lamborn, 8 Andrew Durutalo, 9 Shaun Davies, 10 AJ MacGinty, 11 Ryan Matyas, 12 Bryce Campbell, 13 Marcel Brache, 14 Blaine Scully (capt.), 15 Mike Te’o
Replacements: 16 Peter Malcolm, 17 Huluholo Mo’ungaloa, 18 Paddy Ryan, 19 Cam Dolan, 20 John Quill, 21 Nate Augspurger, 22 Will Magie, 23 JP Eloff
Date: Saturday, November 18
Venue: Brita Arena, Wiesbaden
Kickoff: 17:00 local (11:00 ET, 08:00 PT)
Referee: Brendon Pickerill (NZRU)
Assistants: Ben Whitehouse (WRU) & Vlad Iordachescu (FRR)
Broadcasts: sport1, The Rugby Channel