Petri, Eagles looking for first Pacific Nations Cup win against Japan

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Mike Petri (Brooklyn, N.Y.) will earn his 50th cap Friday as the Men’s Eagles continue their World Rugby Pacific Nations Cup campaign at Bonney Field against Japan.

Head Coach Mike Tolkin has made five changes to the starting XV that nearly overcame an 18-point, second-half deficit to Samoa last weekend in San Jose. Andrew Durutalo (Suva, Fiji), Zach Fenoglio (Denver), Scott LaValla (Olympia, Wash.), and Titi Lamositele (Bellingham, Wash.) also move from their previous reserve roles to the starting squad.

Nick Wallace (Bellingham) has been called into the Eagles’ PNC squad as an injury replacement for Olive Kilifi (Seattle). The prop will provide cover on the bench.

Durutalo and LaValla added to the Eagles’ comeback bid with pressure at the breakdown as well as go-forward runs that kept Samoa in its own 22 for the majority of the final 40 minutes. Despite knocking on the try line on multiple occasions, the U.S. could only score the one try.

“We need to start the game with much more energy and intensity,” Tolkin said, reflecting on the first-half advantage given to the No. 9-ranked Samoans. “We were on our heels a lot and we were loose around the rucks on defense.

“Secondly, we need much more focus on keeping the ball in the attacking 22 and coming out with points more often.”

Lamositele scored the try at Avaya Stadium after a succession of runs by the forward pack, and kept the scrum a strength for the Eagles following his substitution for Mate Moeakiola (Tongatapu, Tonga) midway through the first half. The 20-year-old prop will bind Fenoglio opposite Eric Fry (Davis, Calif.) in the front row.

Japan, which defeated Canada, 20-6, in the opening match of the first-round doubleheader, has come away victorious from its previous five matchups with the Eagles.

Cam Dolan (Fort Myers, Fla.), a try-scorer in last year’s fixture at StubHub Center in Carson, moves to the second row with Hayden Smith (Sydney, Australia), and Durutalo and LaValla will flank in the back row. Danny Barrett (Pacifica, Calif.) remains in the No. 8 shirt, anchoring a pack that will look to keep a strong Japan scrum from driving forward.

“Japan will probe on attack and look for cracks to expose, so our defense needs to be fundamentally sound and physically aggressive,” Tolkin said. “On attack, we must be patient and composed, and wait to expose Japan when they show a weakness in the line.

“The scrum needs to be mentally tough – win that challenge every time or we will suffer the consequences.”

Japan’s scrum won a penalty try in the 2013 Pacific Nations Cup matchup in Tokyo, where tries from current Eagles Fry and captain Chris Wyles (Stamford, Conn.), as well as Luke Hume, were not enough in a 38-20 defeat.

Petri’s 50th career international cap will come in his 34th start at scrum half for the Eagles in a career that has spanned eight years. Behind him in the No. 10 jersey, AJ MacGinty (Dublin, Ireland) will earn his second start in as many games, while the remaining backs are unchanged from the Samoa match.

MacGinty successfully kicked three of four penalty goals in his debut and converted Lamositele’s try, while relieving pressure on the defensive side of the ball and breaking the gain line on more than one occasion with ball in hand.

“AJ is a confident young man with talent,” Tolkin said. “He must use that talent wisely. He is not afraid to take control and once he and the attack find a rhythm, they will be effective.”

Blaine Scully (Sacramento, Calif.) recorded a hat trick in Carson last year and Taku Ngwenya (Harare, Zimbabwe) has scored two of his 12 career tries against the Brave Blossoms, who are tied atop the PNC’s Pool A with Samoa. The U.S. earned a bonus point in Saturday’s loss for keeping the final score line within seven points to remain three standings points behind Fiji in Pool B.

Fiji and Samoa will kick off Friday’s doubleheader in Sacramento at 5 p.m. PT, with the match featuring the home team set for 8 p.m. PT. Admission to the California State Fair on the Cal Expo Center grounds is free with a ticket to the rugby matches. Both matches will be broadcast live on ESPN 3 and the WATCH ESPN digital platform, featuring commentary from former Eagles Dan Power and Dallen Stanford.

USA Rugby’s Twitter account will also provide live match updates during the U.S.’s match against Japan.

Men’s Eagles | v. Japan
1. Eric Fry
2. Zach Fenoglio
3. Titi Lamositele
4. Hayden Smith
5. Cameron Dolan
6. Scott LaValla
7. Andrew Durutalo
8. Danny Barrett
9. Mike Petri
10. AJ MacGinty
11. Takudzwa Ngwenya
12. Thretton Palamo
13. Seamus Kelly
14. Blaine Scully
15. Chris Wyles (C)

Men’s Eagles | Reserves
16. Phil Thiel
17. Nick Wallace
18. Chris Baumann
19. Louis Stanfill
20. Alastair McFarland
21. Shalom Suniula
22. Folau Niua
23. Zack Test

Japan | v. USA
1. Keita Inagaki
2. Takeshi Kizu
3. Kensuke Yamashita
4. Hitoshi Ono
5. Luke Thompson
6. Justin Ives
7. Michael Broadhurst
8. Holani Ryu Koliniashi
9. Keisuke Uchidaa
10. Harumichi Tatekawa
11. Akihito Yamada
12. Ryohei Yamanaka
13. Kotaro Matsushima
14. Karne Hesketh
15. Yoshikazu Fujita

Japan | Reserves
16. Hisateru Hirashima
17. Hiroki Yuhara
18. Shinnosuke Kakinaga
19. Kazuhiko Usami
20. Tsuyoshi Murata
21. Atsushi Hiwasa
22. Kosei Ono
23. Tim Bennetts

Men’s Eagles | Pacific Nations Cup
v. Samoa – L 21-16
v. Japan – Friday, July 24 – 8 p.m. PT – Bonney Field – Sacramento, Calif.
v. Tonga – Wednesday, July 29 – 3:30 p.m. ET – BMO Field – Toronto, Ontario
Finals Day (matchup/kickoff time TBD) – Monday, Aug. 3 – Swangard Stadium – Burnaby, British Columbia

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