RWU got a last-minute, extremely fortunate 10 minutes with travel-weary Team USA Defensive Coach Mike Tolkin. Coach Mike is also the Head Coach of Super League power NYAC and Xavier High School.
RWU: Coach, welcome back to New York. Without looking at your still-unchanged watch, what time is it in New Zealand if it’s 3 AM in NYC?
MT: 7PM – I got used to the quick conversion since I had to call home a bit!
RWU: Partial credit -coaches know that stuff… For us spectators, it would be time for the ½ hour RWC pre-game show. Kickoff is at 3:30 AM.
MT: I’m sure there are many bleary-eyed spectators – and not from just waking up!
RWU: How was the food?
MT: I liked it – lamb, green lipped mussels, pies- what’s not to like. Of course, being from NY, I missed good pizza and burgers!
RWU: What’s the biggest lesson, as a coach, that you take away from the RWC experience?
MT: Positive fundamentals and good systems that you try to instill in the team over several years reap benefits by the time the RWC comes around; no matter what its ranking, no team has magic bullets or techniques/game plans that you can’t prepare for or haven’t seen; however, it’s the talent level and experience that makes the tier 1 games extremely challenging.
RWU: Who was the single most-improved Eagle from tournament?
MT: Hard to say as so many guys stepped up, but flanker Pat Danahy played much better in somewhat limited time
RWU: Did you guys pay off the Russian kicker (flyhalf?) and is he indeed in Siberia now?
MT: He’s lucky if he’s only in Siberia. We may not see him again; don’t forget, Putin runs that country!
RWU: Did [Mike]Petri celebrate his dramatic try by going for his own Captain’s Run or did he opt for 300 push-ups?
MT: Yeah, Mike would have seen the post-try congratulations as squandered cardio time. I think he did Russian twists post-match.
RWU: We didn’t hear one negative thing about Team USA for the entire duration of your trip. Other teams, specifically England, have not been so lucky. Is it a question of your guys being different, Dallen Stanford, your media man courtesy of PakisCorner.com adeptly burying any incendiary stories or something else?
MT: Firstly, if we had been the Yankees in NZ, you would have heard more. I don’t envy England and the masses of blood-thirsty press that follow them looking for any morsel to get on the front/back pages. Having said that, our guys really carried themselves well and were well-received by the kiwis in the towns and cities where we stayed. We were especially aware of how important it was to get good press in order to promote our game back home, and I think that the Eaglesprovided a positive story not only in America, but among the entire RWC.
RWU: Will you be back with the Eagles?
MT: I don’t know at this point.
RWU: Follow-up: What is next for the Eagles?
MT: Probably a domestic camp in the spring to start getting ready for the next series of internationals and then an assembly in the summer.
RWU: Explain why Nese Malifa got the lion’s share of playing time in the warm-up matches when it was ultimately Roland Suniula that got the nod.
MT: [Nese] Malifa held the spot going into the summer but was also dealing with injuries, which hampered him a bit. Suniula was playing well off the bench the more time he got during the summer series. Test rugby starting spots are never guaranteed and it’s an ongoing struggle for players to maintain them. Suniula won the job by the end of the summer, but Nesse never let up or became negative in any way.
RWU: Once you’re settled, we’d like you to chat on camera with Johnathan Wicklow Barberie. Are you game?
MT: How can I turn down an on-camera opportunity with JWB?!
RWU: Thank you, Coach.
MT: My pleasure.
Here are taped interviews with Coach Tolkin and Mike Petri from the Churchill Cup.
Chime in below and tune in tomorrow for Eagle 7s Captain, Matt Hawkins.