Soldier Field in Chicago is sold-out as the All Blacks take on the USA in a ground-breaking fixture that promises much as a spectacle.
Soldier Field in Chicago is sold-out as the All Blacks run out to tackle the USA in a ground-breaking match that promises much as a rugby spectacle.
Already we have a record broken for the biggest crowd poised to watch a rugby match held in the United States, with this the first clash between the two nations in America since the 1980s. Who knows, this could be the start of more regular Stateside stops by nations as the game grows.
Keeping with refreshing changes, the All Blacks of course have not been recognised on the streets of Chicago. But by the end of Saturday they would hope to have put rugby on the map if the numbers stack up watching the live broadcast on NBC, who have half-an-hour’s pre-game build-up to boot.
We suppose the great fear for the Eagles is that they could be embarrassed on the field as box office names such as Sonny Bill Williams and Kieran Read warm up for tougher tests across the Atlantic. USA fans can rest easy of a colossal score though as this team possesses talent.
Samu Manoa, Blaine Scully and Chris Wyles are released from Premiership duty to start the game while Danny Barrett is sure to make a name for himself this weekend. That quartet will be critical to America’s hopes of crossing and getting the crowd off their feet and in the mood.
How they perform as a team after a lack of time together might be a concern, however, as the English-based Manoa and Scully were in Champions Cup action last weekend before jetting home. Again though, it shouldn’t be too great as wheels would’ve been in motion for months.
New Zealand meanwhile will hope to further grow the All Black brand and may experiment with their options ahead of clashes with England, Scotland and Wales, as rotation sees Richie McCaw, Jerome Kaino, Sam Whitelock, Malakai Fekitoa, Dane Coles, Tony Woodcock, Owen Franks, Aaron Smith, Beauden Barrett and Conrad and Ben Smith watching. Subsequently Aaron Cruden returns, keen to mend bridges after his gaffe.
Cruden will be joined by TJ Perenara in the half-backs while there’s a welcome return to the matchday squad for Dan Carter, with the bench set to have a real impact in Chicago as coach Steve Hansen can send on Keven Mealamu, Wyatt Crockett, Ben Franks, Brodie Retallick, Liam Messam, Augustine Pulu, Julian Savea and the experienced fly-half – possibly at inside centre in another trial – for plenty of time when they should pull away.
And that is where so many teams have come unstuck over the years as a combination of superior fitness – and more so calm faith in themselves as Messam revealed in the changing room following their late victory over Australia – comes to the fore. He stated that their belief “goes up when they’re put into those situations”. There lies a priceless confidence that will serve them well during 2015. On Saturday, no such final-second heroics will be required.
Ones to watch:
For USA: At number eight for the Eagles is Danny Barrett, who is an outstanding prospect. He is a willing ball carrier as many will have seen on the IRB World Sevens Series so wait for his speed and fend to cause the All Blacks some bother. At 24, he has a big future.
For New Zealand: Finally a good opportunity for scrum-half TJ Perenara to show off his skills on the international scene. After waiting patiently while Aaron Smith’s standard refuses to drop, Perenara gets his start and USA must be wary of his threat around the ruck.
Head-to-head: One of the stand-out players in the Premiership this season, Blaine Scully faces off against Charles Piutau on Saturday. According to Opta, Scully has the highest average gain by a Leicester Tigers player this season and knows his way to the try-line too. He is physical, fast and elusive and will be the USA’s main try-scoring threat in Chicago. However, he will have to get past Piutau, who comes in to start after impressing against the Wallabies. Also keep an eye on Samu Manoa and Patrick Tuipolotu for the collisions.
Prediction: It won’t be as huge like the bookmakers (-57) are saying. New Zealand by 45!
USA: 15 Chris Wyles, 14 Blaine Scully, 13 Seamus Kelly, 12 Andrew Suniula, 11 Brett Thompson, 10 Adam Siddall, 9 Mike Petri, 8 Danny Barrett, 7 Scott Lavalla, 6 Todd Clever (c), 5 Hayden Smith, 4 Samu Manoa, 3 Olive Kilifi, 2 Phil Thiel, 1 Eric Fry.
Replacements: 16 Tom Coolican, 17 Nick Wallace, 18 Mate Moeakiola, 19 Tai Tuisamoa, 20 Louis Stanfill, 21 Benjamin Tarr, 22 Folau Niua, 23 Troy Hall.
New Zealand: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Charles Piutau, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Victor Vito, 5 Patrick Tuipulotu, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Ben Franks, 19 Brodie Retallick, 20 Liam Messam, 21 Augustine Pulu, 22 Daniel Carter, 23 Julian Savea.
Date: Saturday, November 1
Kick-off: 15:00 local (20:00 GMT)
Venue: Soldier Field Stadium, Chicago
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Chris Assmus (Canada), tba (Canada)