By Jon Newcombe
USA scrum half Robbie Shaw says his side are not content to be the ‘nearly men’ of international rugby as they prepare to resume their Pacific Nations Cup 2013 campaign with a match against Tonga.
The Eagles go into the Friday evening fixture on the back of two narrow defeats: 12-15 to Ireland (in front of a record crowd for a rugby match in the USA) and 16-9 to Canada in the opening round of PNC action.
Just over 20,000 spectators turned up in Houston last Saturday to see Mike Tolkin’s men fall just short of defeating a Tier 1 nation.
But rather than dwell ‘on what might have been’ Shaw, named amongst the USA replacements, says there is a steely determination in the Eagles squad to get a ‘W’ on the board.
Near-misses not acceptable
“Maybe a few years ago we’d have been reasonably happy to perform well and lose by a few points to a higher ranked team. But that’s not the case now; we want to turn teams over. We’re trying to build an ethos where near-misses are not acceptable,” Shaw said.
Looking ahead to Friday’s match at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California, the Richmond FC player added: “We’re most definitely after a win this weekend.
“We know Tonga are going to play hard and we’ll come out and try to match them.
“It’s going to be an interesting game and hopefully we can do ourselves justice.”
USA have only beaten Tonga once before in five previous meetings: 30-10 on May 15, 1999 - the first-ever encounter between the sides.
However Friday’s match gives them a golden opportunity to break the losing cycle, as Tonga are missing three frontline players due to suspension.
Backs Siale Piutau and David Halaifonua, both yellow-carded in Tonga’s 36-27 defeat to Canada last time out, are currently serving three and six week bans respectively, while prop Edmund Aholelei, sent off for punching in the same match, has been suspended for 3 weeks following an IRB disciplinary hearing.
The USA will be shorn of the services of Samu Manoa, the man dubbed ‘Blockmonstah’ for the raw physicality he brings to the game.
The grandson of a former Tonga captain, Manoa, who made his return to the Eagles’ ranks after a two-and-a-half year absence against Ireland, has returned home to the UK to start pre-season with his club side Northampton Saints.
Just two changes for USA
The USA’s other European-based stars such as Scott LaValla, Takudzwa Ngwenya and Chris Wyles are all included in Mike Tolkin’s starting XV, which sees just two changes to the side that came up just short against Ireland.
Peter Dahl comes into the back row to accommodate the loss of Manoa, while James Paterson replaces Luke Hume on the wing.
For Tonga perhaps the most interesting change from the Canada match sees the influential Taniela Moa swap half back jerseys – something Shaw tried to do with the generously-sized scrum half the last time they came across each other –and play at number 10 in place of the injured Kurt Morath.
Shaw explained: “I played a good 60 minutes or so against him (Moa) when we lost to them in Wales in November. At the end of the game I wanted to swap jerseys but he’d already given his away to someone in the crowd. So we swapped shorts instead. His pair had a 42 inch waist, mine, he said, he’d give to his kids!”
Hurricanes development player, Thomas Palu, starts at scrum half, in a team that shows a total of eight changes from the drama-filled clash against Canada.
Both sides need to win on Friday night to harbour any realistic hopes of catching unbeaten leaders Canada in the PNC standings.
USA: 15. Chris Wyles; 14. Takudzwa Ngwenya, 13. Seamus Kelly, 12. Andrew Suniula, 11. James Paterson; 10. Toby L’Estrange, 9. Mike Petri; 1. Shawn Pittman, 2. Chris Biller, 3. Eric Fry, 4. Brian Doyle, 5. Louis Stanfill, 6. Scott LaValla, 7. Peter Dahl, 8. Todd Clever (captain).
Replacements: 16. Zach Fenoglio, 17. Nick Wallace, 18. Phil Thiel, 19. Graham Harriman, 20. John Quill, 21. Robbie Shaw, 22. Adam Siddall, 23. Blaine Scully
Tonga: 15, Viliami Hakalo; 14. Viliame ‘Iongi, 13. Fraser Anderson, 12. Sione Piukala, 11. Will Helu; 10. Taniela Moa, 9. Thomas Paul; 1. Kamaliele Sakalia, 2. Elvis Taione, 3. Taione Vea, 4. Josh Afu, 5. Tukulua Lokotui, 6. Hale T Pole (captain), 7. Nili Latu, 8. Paula Kaho.
Replacements: 16. ‘Ilaisa Ma’asi, 17. Peni Fakalelu, 18. Sila Piufisi, 19. Emosi Kauhenga, 20. Daniel Faleafa, 21. Siale Fahiua, 22. Samisoni Pone, 23. Samisoni Masima.