Tomorrow’s test match for the United States Eagles against Georgia in Tbilisi will be a decent measuring stick for the Americans’ development during the current European Tour. Coming off of a 25-0 loss against Scotland “A,” the Eagles will have their hands full against a Georgian team looking for a second-straight upset against North American teams. While the Georgians have developed a reputation for harsh play on the field, approaching, if not, thuggishness at times – they will be playing at home, where they have been impressive this year.
With their 22-15 upset victory over Canada, the resurgent Georgians have leapfrogged Tonga in the IRB rankings and at #17 are now one spot behind the United States. While these two teams did not face off against each other in the 2010 Churchill Cup, the United States did beat the Georgians 31-13 in Denver the previous year.
A victory against the United States will move the Georgians one more rung up the international rankings, replacing the U.S.
Georgia has been an erratic team in recent games, while winning against Canada and Russia (a grudge match to be sure, given International geo-political nastiness between the two in recent years) in recent matches, they’ve lost to Namibia and Romania this year as well. An interesting fact for this match, Georgia is 13 of 15 when starting center Irakli Chkhikvadze has been in the starting lineup; and when starting fly-half Lasha Malaguradze has played, Georgia has won 17 of 21 matches.
At first glance, international experience also appears to be a weakness for the Eagles – Georgia forward pack have more international appearances than the entire United States’ starting 15. With Georgia’s new coach, Richie Dixon, coaching only his second game for the team, it will be interesting to watch their composure as they are pressured. And while the United States has less international test experience, at least eight of the starting 15 currently play professionally overseas.
For the United States this ends the team’s “European Tour” for 2010. Unlike many of the other teams travelling throughout the continent, the United States does not have a regularly scheduled yearly tour of the rugby playing nations. In order for the United States to get stronger, they need to be more diligent in planning more than a handful of international test matches a year. (While Georgia has racked up many international test-level face-offs in calendar year 2010, the United States only has two)
The United States also needs to work on better ways to keep their team together longer to train together. But these are points for an upcoming piece on rugby in the United States dissecting what the IRC (Internet Rugby Community) usually bitch about.