The Italian rugby team has arrived at its final destination in its tour of the Americas — Houston —to face the United States National team Saturday night at BBVA Compass Stadium. This is the second time in as many years that the Italians and Americans have clashed on the rugby pitch. Italy bounced the USA out of contention for the 2011 Rugby World Cup quarterfinals in New Zealand, defeating the Americans 27-10.
The U.S. National team suffered a loss at the hands of Canada 28-5 last month but recently defeated Georgia 36-20 in Colorado, giving the team momentum going into the game, where more than 16,000 tickets have been sold for the 7:30 p.m. start. The match against Italy will be the team's third and final test match in June as the squad tries to raise American awareness of rugby by playing higher-level competition.
The team decided to build upon its success against Georgia by keeping the lineup the same besides switching of sides between two wing players – James Paterson and Luke Hume.
The Italian tour of the Americas began on a negative note as the team lost to the Argentinian National Team. The team quickly rebounded from its loss, defeating the Canadian team in an inspiring-fashion. Fly-half and fullback Kristopher Burton kicked 20 points to overcome a four-point halftime deficit.
Despite emerging victorious from its last contest, the Italian team with send out a very different lineup on Saturday. Luke McLean, Roberto Quartaroli, Edoardo Gori, Mauro Bergamasco, Carlo Festuccia, Alberto De Marchi and Luca Morisi have been inserted into the lineup by Coach Jacques Brunel. The seven new additions make the team considerably younger. The average age of the seven is just above 25 years old, with the youngest, Morisi, never having started a match before.
BBVA Compass Stadium is seen as a prime location to hold the rugby event because it is new, the perfect size for a rugby match, and because Houston has shown the capability to handle a major event, according to NCS Events media director Eric Taber.
The event gives the new stadium, which is the home of the Houston Dynamo, an opportunity to show that it can hold events besides soccer and can host a variety of happenings. Although there was no official bidding process to host the game this year, officials acknowledged that it could become a real possibility for the game next year.
At a Friday press conference U.S. coach Mike Tolkin said he appreciated, “the chance to play against one of the top teams.”
Tolkin also said the IRB had plans for the United States to face at least one “tier one” team each year. These games could help the American players improve, and hopefully reach a level of skill comparable to the top teams in Europe, he said.