With a 13 point deficient and a spot in the Americas 1 RWC playoff on the line, USA Rugby head coach Gary Gold selected his second consecutive non-traditional back line bench.
After Nate Augspurger, AJ MacGinty, and Tavite Lopeti filled the reserves last week, MacGinty and Lopeti have found their way into the first 15. Will Magie shifts to the bench after starting at 10 due to MacGinty’s travel delays. Augspurger stays on the bench after filling in at wing early in last week’s game. Mike Dabulas joins the bench as he seeks his first cap.
A typical backline bench in a 5-3 split looks as such:
- Substitute Scrumhalf
- Potential cover for 10/15 or 10/12
- Potential cover for wings/centers (if paired with a 10/15 player) or potential cover for 11/14/15 (if paired with a 10/12 cover)
Compare that to Gold’s selection:
- Augspurger (9/11/14)
- Magie (10/15)
- Dabulas (10/15)
Such a selection creates the type of issue we saw last week. When Mika Kruse was replaced early, Augspurger was sent in at wing, leaving Rueben de Haas without a back up. In test rugby, it’s uncommon for the 9 to play all 80. It’s a taxing position from a stamina perspective. Even Aaron Smith finds the pine before he hears the final whistle.
Can such a set up work? Maybe.
The US is short on skilled wings. Ryan James is the only wing in camp to not have seen a roster spot, but he was always more of a developmental call up. Yes, he’s talented, but he’s also the third wing on the Giltinis. so, what happens if a wing goes down? Or even Lopeti at 13?
Enter (or, rather, stay in the game) Marcel Brache.
The recently signed Austin man could be the key to Gary Gold’s back line. Starting a 15 this week, Brache made his name on the wing in Super Rugby and has several appearances at 13 under his belt with the Eagles. If Gold commits to Augspurger as a dedicated substitute 9, (he should,) Brache could shift to 11/13/14 as needed with Magie or Dabulas taking 15.
The entire situation is less than ideal. Personally, I would’ve started Brache at 11, Magie at fullback, and put Matyas on the bench to cover center/wing. That would’ve given the US a traditional setup. (I also would’ve selected Michael Baska over Augspurger, but that’s for another day.)
None of this is ideal. The Eagles’ wing depth is being exposed. But it only needs to work one time to get through this series. If it came to pass, would it be too convoluted with several player switching assignments mid match? We’ll have to wait and see.