The USA plays New Zealand in round two of the Women’s Super Series, and will be looking to build off its opening loss to England. Lots of changes have been made to the starting lineup as valuable field time is moved around the squad, but here are some things we’ll be watching as the USA takes on the best team in the world.
USA head coach Rob Cain explained that the program is still developing individuals and testing combinations, and that team development won’t come until later in the World Cup cycle. Some issues with continuity are expected; however, the Eagles’ unforced errors and penalties really frustrated otherwise promising sections of play. Ten changes have been made to Friday’s starting roster so it’ll be interesting to see if a cleaner game emerges today.
Although the attack struggled to connect through longer phases, individuals were able to express themselves on defense and brew some team confidence. Hope Rogers was so good over the ball – as was Alev Kelter and others – and they should lead the way in terms of big hits that ignite an energetic response. We’re keen to see how flankers Elizabeth Cairns – who has returned to international rugby after a long injury rehab – and Joyce Taufa, fresh on the scene since November, square up against the best team in the world.
The set piece struggled against England, which was able to pressure the Eagles into penalties and retreat. New Zealand is also a big threat but the USA has a more experienced tight five starting in round two. Hope Rogers slides over to loosehead and Nick James replaces Catie Benson in the front row. Katy Augustyn, whose 15s cap count (on this roster) is second only to Stacey Bridges, steps in as hooker. Bridges and Alycia Washington anchor the second row, and that should provide some stability for better scrums.
We’re intrigued by this combination. Ashlee Byrge is an attacking scrumhalf, and barring that one panicked kick-pass that resulted in an England try, brings that right element of danger. [We also really liked Olivia Ortiz and her grit.] Katana Howard twice subbed on for Gabby Cantorna and brings some size and power to the flyhalf position. The Twin Cities Amazon attacked the line and took contact well, and we’re curious what role Howard will play in the kicking game. Together, we like the potential threat these two could pose together.
Kelter in the lynchpin of the back line – and again, it’s just remarkable given the USA 7s resident’s history in 15s – and this match switches up the dynamic from round one. Kelter takes on inside center and brings the physicality of game-one center Eti Haungatau. Amy (Naber) Bonte gets the call-up to outside center and will have the opportunity to deploy her evasion skills. Both Haungatau and rising Dartmouth sophomore Emily Henrich are on the reserves, and we’re hoping to see these two teenagers play beside each other today.