The USA Women’s National Team (WNT) and England will play their 17th test match against each other on Friday in London. The teams last met at the 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup – England won 47-26 – and the Roses hold a 15-1 all-time record over the Eagles. Pete Steinberg served as USA WNT head coach during the previous five meetings against England and lends valuable insight into Friday’s opposition.
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DALEY-MCLEAN, THE DIRECTOR
England flyhalf Katy Daley-Mclean will earn a 100th cap in Friday’s game, and Steinberg has joined the praise in calling the halfback “probably the best rugby player I have coached against.”
“She has always made the England team tick and when she is not on the pitch they are just not as good. She is a great game manager and kicker, but what [England head coach] Simon Middleton added to their game leading to 2017 was the ability of Katy to stand flat and hit runners out wide,” Steinberg noted. “They work with two pods in the middle of the field and they can hit either one. The fact that Katy is so flat means that the runners get over the gainline and produce quick ball.”
Daley-Mclean vs. USA the 2017 World Cup / Photo: INPHO/James Crombie for WRWC
Steinberg went on to explain that if the defensive line does not stretch, and the centers are tackling England’s forwards, then trouble awaits. As England’s attack moves wide, the USA’s young back three will then have to be mindful of the kick that is liable to fall behind the wing who’s leveling with the defensive line.
“Katy is even important on defense and England’s defensive organization,” Steinberg returned Daley-Mclean. “You can hear her voice more than anybody else. I have coached against her many times and often our goal was to make her tackle. She is a sound tackler but if you put her on the ground they lose that leadership for a couple of phases which gives you some advantage.”
THE PACKSSteinberg noted that England’s strength has traditionally been in its forwards, who produce a virtually unstoppable driving maul (sound familiar?) and are integrating some exciting young talent in the front row this match. The coach foresees opportunity in the back row, as England starts teenager Sarah Beckett at No. 8, places Sarah Hunter (105 caps) in the reserves, and Vicky Fleetwood, who’s played a lot of hooker, at flanker. Look for USA No. 8 Jordan Gray to get some go-forward.
Bridges, Washington, Johnson & Gray-Matyas return / Photo: Max Rugby (mxfotos.com)
“For the USA team, we have selected a mobile pack, but I am concerned about our ability to be able to scrum with England,” Steinberg critiqued. “Moving Catie Benson to [tighthead prop] is a gamble. She can do it, but switching sides of the scrum is not easy at this level. The lineout will also be a challenge against one of the best in the world. Jojo Kitlinski has thrown for the USA team before but she arrived this week and goes straight into starting. Missing the reps from last week makes it tough.”
Steinberg recalled that the USA has been able to compete with England when there’s a contest in the set pieces, and that’s where it has to start with Friday’s squad.
THE BACKSThe whole of the back line has 12 caps, and wing Kelsi Stockert accounts for six of those appearances. Kimber Rozier and Meya Bizer have been replaced, and they accounted for the majority of the experience against New Zealand.
Photo: David Barpal
England also runs young, as a pair of debuts in the centers will face McKenzie Hawkins and Emily Henrich. Steinberg explained that although the middle three will be tested, returning flyhalf Gabby Cantorna and Hawkins have played next to each other in the age grades, and that familiarity will help. So will Hawkins’ boot.
“The back three is a concern because of the lack of a natural kicker,” Steinberg shifted focus. “What you cannot do against England is get stuck in your half because their forwards will wear you down, penalties get kicked to the corner and then they drive it in. We have to have some territory and be able to get out of our half.”
The team no doubt has been working hard since its outing in Chicago, but Steinberg encourages the management of expectations.
“We should not expect this young team to compete for 80 minutes against what is essentially a professional team,” Steinberg alluded to the 28 full-time 15s contracts that will go live in the New Year. “However if we can find places where there is improvement, then they can build towards the Ireland test, which will be the real test of the tour’s success.”
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