USA Rugby 2014 Autumn Internationals Tour Preview Pt. 1(Redux)

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With all of the fanfare surronding the USA Eagles v All Blacks Match, the tour preview got lost in the schuffle. We decided to re-release our tour preview and focus on the the 3 games that actually make up the tour.

Courtesy of USA Rugby

Courtesy of USA Rugby

NEW YORK, NY  It would be easy to miss that two weeks ago USA Rugby announced the touring side for their Autumn Internationals. Note that international is plural indicating there is more than one game. A year out from the RWC, these 3 games will give a far greater indication of the state of the Men’s national than the big ‘one-off’ in Chicago did. All Chicago showed us was how awesome the All Blacks are and how far we have to go. If this is to be the first USA team to win more than one game at a RWC or even–dare we dream,make the quarterfinals, it must first dominate its fellow Tier 2s like Argentina did on its rise from Tier 2 to Tier 1. Make Tier 1 and maybe the All Blacks visit every other year. With that said, looking at this tour the TravelRoster and Availability of players are once again the key standout issues.

TRAVEL:
New Zealand All BlacksSoldier Field (Chicago, Illinois)Nov. 1 @ 3:00 P.M. CT
RomaniaStadionul National Arcul de Triumf (Bucharest, Romania)Nov. 8 @ TBD
TongaKlingsholm Stadium (Gloucester, England)Nov. 15 @ TBD
FijiStade de la Rabine (Vannes, France)Nov. 22 @ TBD

Thankfully, this fall doesn’t require as much travel as last year for Team USA. They completed that the historic test against the All Blacks in Chicago. They now travel to Bucharest to face Romania. They’ll then leave Eastern Europe for Western Europe to play Tonga.  Last year, USA Rugby CEO Nigel Melville pushed for a match in London to try and reach the ex-pat community. This time he got close with the Tonga match taking place in Gloucester. Gloucester happens to be the old club that Melville played and worked for. As an aside, we still want to push for  Mike Holzman’s idea of having a match in Germany near a US military base as something to be considered. From Gloucester, they finish their tour against Fiji in France as a neutral meeting place. The location is convenient for both countries.

Tour squad 1Tour squad 2Tour squad 3

Looking at the roster, you see players like Tim Stanfill, John Cullen and Kyle Sumison have been brought into the squad. All three looked very good during the Americas Rugby Championship (ARC).  That’s no surprise as this year’s ARC was used to give members of previous tours more game time against quality opposition as opposed to testing young new players. However, there are players missing from the ARC squad and this current squad leaves room for debate.

For instance, Shaun Davies played in the ARC last year and made the fall tour but has since been banished to the wilderness for reasons unknown, same for Joe Cowley. Also, there is no clear back-up 10 with Shalom Suniula who had a good ARC at scrumhalf asked to cover both halfback spots again.  It is tough to grasp.

Shalom Suniula pulling double duty

Shalom Suniula, pulling double duty

The attempted inclusion of longtime fringe player Troy Hall has become an issue. As reported yesterday, he is ineligible for national team action for 6 months due to USA Anti-Doping regulations surrounding when he he notified them of his comeback from retirement. This means that there will be a scramble to add a FB capable player that is in the talent pool and able to get time off from his day job. There return of Taku “Z” Ngwenya is more likely connected to the RWC as he had skipped previous internationals for unspecified reasons.

Depth issues again rear their head at Prop with the retirement of Shawn Pittman and injury to Titi Lamositele. So a man almost forgotten about since 2007, Mate Moeakiola will join the tour as tighthead cover. With an eye to the future, young tyros at prop Angus McClellan and Ben Tarr are included to begin getting them ready to take the mantle. Young Aussie Greg Peterson is one to watch at lock. He has been viewed as body mover at the ruck. An interesting tidbit about Peterson is that he is an American born – Aussie raised player whose granddad was a rugger but his Dad was a college and pro football player. Going forward how the young players do will determine if it will be the 2015 or 2019 RWC for them.

AVAILABILITY:
Players: The big news regarding availability was announced a fortnight ago, when USA Rugby and Premiership Rugby Ltd (business arm of the Aviva Premiership) came to a 3 for 1 agreement. USA agreed to return their Aviva Premiership players back to their clubs for the 3 game international break as per IRB law, in return for having those players available for the All Blacks game. A few things to consider here:

  1. It is 3 for 1 but it also may include the competitions in 2015 that the players are normally unavailable for, though it has not been officially confirmed.
  2. In order to get the All Blacks here, USA Rugby had to promise the NZRU they would have a full strength side. So for all those happy to see the All Blacks in the US, know that a price had to be paid and that was the price.
  3. PRL is a business. As much as you may think that they should have just given the US players an exception in the best interest of the game, it would be bad business for them. They knew the USA needed their players so they had the leverage. They also had to set a steep price to make sure should any other Tier 2 nation like Samoa or Fiji have ideas of the same kind of exception, they have a precedent that has been set so no special treatment was possible.
  4. Rumor has it that CEO Melville made this decision without the input of head coach Mike Tolkin. This is just hogwash. No way does a director of a national union make a call that big without letting his coach know. If you think about it, that would explain why so many experienced veterans, like Lou Stanfill, got game time in the ARC. It was prepping them for the task they would have during the Autumn internationals.

The previously mentioned ineligiblity of Troy Hall means a search is on for a team eligible FB. Availabilty will be key so there is possibly room for a guy like the aforementioned Joe Cowley or maybe even the forgotten Roland Suniula that plays his rugby in France.

This deal will test the country’s depth as half A, half B sides will have to take on the best of fellow tier 2 nations. This should be seen as an opportunity for some of our guys to showcase their wares. Now let’s Look at the Management Availability.

Mike Tolkin – Head Coach
Nate Osborne – 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
Jeff Mjannes – Doctor (All Blacks/Romania)
Matt Schmitz – Doctor (Tonga/Fiji)
Richard Quincy – Physiotherapist
Zach Vyhananek – Physiotherapist
Sarah Sall – Massage Therapist
Tristan Lewis – Manager

This year the USA backroom staff is more settled. Having the same management team from year to year would be great but it is not possible.This is where one can empathize with a Tier 2 head coach. While you often get a group of dedicated staff members, it is not easy finding them and when you do–you’re restricted by their availability. In this case, Coach Tolkin’s staff is made up of guys that have to show full-time dedication to the National Team at part-time pay. They juggle their full-time jobs, work schedules and personal lives. This year they get the same physios for the tour but 2 different doctors for the 2 matches. Just ask yourself, how important is it to you that your doctor knows and understands you? Another change sees Billy Millard step down as Attack Coach to concentrate on his duties as USA Rugby AIG Men’s Junior All-Americans head coach and High Performance 15s manager. He is replaced by Metropolis coach Nate Osborne, who held the same role with the Eagles Select XV coaching staff at this year’s ARC. He will have familiarity with the amateur guys but not the pro guys, so it will be interesting to see how it goes.

That’s it for Part 1, please be on the lookout for Part 2 tomorrow. 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, Karen Ritter , Jamie Wall, Jake Frechette and Declan Yeats, respectively.

And as always, stay low and keep pumping those legs.

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Born in Osu, Accra, Ghana, West Africa, Junoir Blaber is a rare commodity; while most Ghanians eat, sleep and dream Soccer (football), Junoir is all about Rugby. A self-proclaimed Rugbyologist, he has been involved in Rugby as a ref, coach, administrator and player since Columbus discovered Ohio. His useful/trivial rugby knowledge qualify Blaber as RWU's Senior Correspondent & known in rugby circles as The Rugby Rain Man. He can also be found moonlighting for our American partners at MeetTheMatts.com.

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