NEW YORK, NY: The Autumn Internationals are over and just as there was a Tour Preview, there must be a Tour Review. With that, the Rugby Rain Man Collective (RRMC) considers here what the fall tours have taught us about Team USA and Coaching Staff.
Front Row: The USA showed that their prop depth wasn’t as bad as thought. It became clear that going forward the starters should be Nick Wallace at loosehead and Sean Pittman tighthead. The two should be backed-up by Titi Lamositele and Eric Fry, respectively. Beyond those 4, the water gets a bit murky and finding options should injury occur is a priority. At hooker, it appears Phil Thiel is the only option but there needs to be a second or 3rd even. The USA need Chris Biller to get fit and back to his best, because his best is better than Thiel’s best. Patrick Latu needs to get a look and Zach Fenoglio also needs a chance to state his case because he didn’t get one this tour. And for those wondering what is the story with Cam Falcon – he is still developing at Trinity College, Ireland but is someone to look for around 2015 and beyond.
Second Row: Going into the fall this was an area of concern. However, a solid Americas Rugby Championship (ARC) and Fall Tour now make this position look deep. Tai Tuisamoa is a huge find and adds the grit and mean streak that the USA often lacks. Graham Harriman proved a solid option at this level, plus there is always that human force of nature that is Samu Manoa, who could slide in when avaailable. As a down the road option, John Cullen is developing nicely and should be able to compete more in a year. There is actually enough depth that if Hayden Smith does come back to rugby (as rumored) he will have to work his way back into the mix, as will the injured Brian Doyle and Lou Stanfill. Plus Inaki Busari is still lurking around.
Back Row: It appears that Scott LaValla, Todd Clever and Cam Dolan are the first choice backrow. Manoa is an option at Blindside or 8. At openside, Derek Asbun, John Quills and Pete Dahl aren’t bad options to start or off the bench. In the pipeline there is still Danny Barrett and Ryan Sunison, so the Eagles are good to go here.
Half Backs: The pecking order seems to be Mike Petri, Robbie Shaw and Shaun Davies at scrumhalf, yet it seems as if Petri’s game has truly had a dip in class. With the likes Chris Saint also pushing to get noticed, there will be a fight for the 9 jersey and as Davies has more of a future. We expect Petri moving to the bottom, but it will take an unavailability of some sort for that to happen… Adam Siddall got his chance by way of injury and used the opportunity to make the fly-half position his, with Toby “L’Sigh” L’Strange the back-up. If L’Strange starts the RWC Qualifiers against Uruguay, fans will be upset… and rightly so. Siddall also has the benefit of being a top notch goal-kicker.
Centers: Andrew Suniula looked his best in ages. It was remarked that maybe getting back into the pro environment at London Wasps has helped re-juvinate him. He formed a solid partnership with Folau Niua at 13. The combo worked well and Niua’s future with the USA maybe in 15s and not 7s… Seamus Kelly is getting better. His defense is good but the RRMC is not sold on him starting at 13. We still would like to see Chris Wyles as an option there. There needs to be a bit more tinkering to find back-up options in case of injury.
Back 3: As of now Blaine Scully at wing with Wyles at fullback is fantastic. Luke Hume and Tim Maupin are okay sharing the duties of the “finishing” winger, but maybe now is the time to re-introduce Takudzwa “Z” Ngwenya back into the mix. Back-ups to look for in the future range from proven talent in James Patterson, lots of potential in Joe Cowley and the solid Zach Pangelinan.
Scrums: There has been improvement which cannot be denied. However, “It’s better than it used to be but not as good as it needs to be.” Consistently solid scrimmaging does not occur enough.
Lineouts: It may the calls, the jumper and his location, the lifters or just bad throwing – but the lineout is not good enough.
Rucks: The USA rucks really need to be cleaner on attack and they need to learn how to do a better job of slowing the opposition’s ball down.
Mauls: Would be nice if the maul was used the lineout more – since it is a great weapon – but it doesn’t seem to part of Coach Mike Tolkin’s style.
Defense: The USA’s first-up defense, slide defense on set pieces and scramble defense on breaks looks much improved.
Attack: The attack is more coherent and clear. It adjusted to the opponent but the clear focus is attacking tight and drawing defenders playing into the dynamism of the USA forwards.
Discipline: It may have been the refs but there needs to be better adjustment to the kind of game that the ref is calling and playing within those parameters.
Leadership: Coach Mike Tolkin and Captain Todd Clever have found the balance of get the buy-in from the players, having faith in the system and in Clever’s case, ref management.
William (Billy) Millard – Assistant Coach/ Backs and Attack
Justin Fitzpatrick – Assistant Coach/ Forwards and Scrum
Phil Bailey – Assistant Coach/Defense
Dave Williams – Assistant Coach/Strength and Conditioning
Chris O’Brien – Kicking Coach
Paul Goulding – Video Analyst
O’Brien has made the subtle tweaks to help a guy like Siddall kick with consistency. Not sure he is responsible for box-kicks but the scrumhalf position really needs to improve on those. Paul Goulding’s work is hard to grade but if the adjustment of the game-plan against Georgia to a side like Russia showed anything, it showed the right amount of research was invested… so we will give Goulding the credit.
Dave Williams will be given credit for the team not fading away in the last quarter of the game. It was very common during the summer to see the USA let a game slip at the end. And no one has mentioned the Eagles being found wanting for power, speed or fitness. Defense coach Phil Bailey, a NSW star and Aussie Rugby League National team player and hero, has made tweaks that have improved, but the 7-10 channel is still a problem, that needs to be looked at.
Forwards/Scrum Coach Justin Fitzpatrick has had the hogs up front looking good. The grunt and full-game focus that was missing seems to have been found, but if the USA ever hope to be a 10-13 ranked side – then consistency in the scrum and line-out have to get better… Backs/Attack Coach Billy Millard has done a great job, just by the increase of tries scored per game under his brief tenure. Factor in just points and it is a huge difference.
It was suggested that with the additional staff, Tolkin is taking a “less is more” approach. By finding more assistants, Tolkin could focus on the various other tasks like man-management, strategy and motivation. Tolkin also gets credit for going with the big guns during the ARC, since it looks like it really helped develop some guys.
Going into the tour, the goal was for the USA to have a close loss to the AIG Maori All Blacks and 2 victories on the road against Georgia and Russia. In that aspect, Tolkin delivered. The question now is: Can the USA keep this momentum going into the RWC Qualifiers and Summer Tour? We’ll have to wait and see.
That’s it for now… feel free to comment below, look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter @: RugbyWrapUp, Junoir Blaber, DJ Eberle, Nick Hall, James Harrington, Cody Kuxmann, Jaime Loyd and Declan Yeats, respectively.
And until the next time… stay low and keep pumping those legs.