Set-piece flair proving elusive for Eagles

USA rate their scrums at Rugby World Cup 2019 as passable, but excellence in the lineout has proved harder to establish.

OSAKA, 13 Oct - USA assistant coach Shawn Pittman is hoping that the Eagles can discover some form in their set pieces ahead of their final Rugby World Cup pool match against Tonga in Osaka on Sunday.

The former prop, who earned 30 caps for the USA and featured in Rugby World Cup 2011 in New Zealand, is Gary Gold’s set-piece coach and he is responsible for looking after the scrum and lineout.

"On the set piece overall, we’ve underperformed a bit," Pittman said. "Our scrum has been decent. In the first game, we struggled with the amount of power England had but I definitely think we’ve improved in that aspect."

Having played England, France and Argentina, the USA have had three matches against Tier 1 opposition with which to test themselves. They won 80 per cent of the scrums on their own ball against France but this rose to an impressive 100 per cent against Argentina, a team who have historically prided themselves as dominant in this area.

Across their three games, the USA scrum's average success rate of winning their own ball stands at 89 per cent. This puts them 14th out of all 20 competing teams at Rugby World Cup 2019.

In the lineout, the success rate drops to 81 per cent, ahead of only Canada and level with Georgia, something Pittman finds disappointing.

"Lineout has been a big let-down for us, especially considering where we came from in 2018, where we won 92 per cent of our own ball. Right now, we’re sitting at a pretty below-average number. We’ve hopefully fixed the issues and we'll just grind on with it."

The USA's final test on Sunday comes in the form of Tonga, the only team in Pool C who is lower than them in the world rankings. Pittman has been doing his homework.

"Tonga are doing well in their set piece right now, so that’s my main focus," he said.

"They’re doing well in their scrums and you can see how they challenged France, Argentina and England. We’re going to have our efforts cut out for us but I think we’re up to the challenge."

In Pittman’s pack, Malon Al-Jiboori will make his RWC debut having worked hard on the training field since the team arrived in Okinawa in mid-September.

The 22-year-old former sevens player is keen to get into the action.

"It’s been a long tour, so I’m just ready to go out and play. I’m ready to take my opportunity," he said.

Al-Jiboori said his biggest assets are his ball-carrying skills and physicality, which he hoped will work to his advantage against Sunday's opponents.

"Obviously, Tonga is a good team and they’re known for being physical so, I’ll just be trying to match that against them,” he said.

Assistant coach Pittman backs his men to go and achieve something the USA has not done for a total of eight years and four weeks – to win a RWC match.

"Malon’s a quiet leader, gets on with his job and does his job quite well," he said.

"With Joe (Taufete’e) and Nick (Civetta) being such good leaders on the pitch and off, I think everybody gets on quietly with their work. Attacking-wise, if we can be consistent in what we do, I think we’ll have a good day at the office."

RNS nh/dh/djk/ajr