PHILADELPHIA, PA – A Rugby Wrap Up colleague recently asked: “Will the Eagles really miss Todd Clever?”
With Scott LaValla missing out last minute because of injury, it is impossible to argue that Clever wouldn’t make the squad better. I am sure that Matt Trouville will contribute everything he can to the squad, but he is not the player Todd Clever is.
This gif is really all that is needed to understand why.
He is a physical ball carrier with good rugby sense. He gets into position and then looks to smash someone. His work rate on defense is good. He is a reliable option in the lineout. His biggest weakness, as a back row forward, is the relatively low rate of turnovers and penalties caused at the breakdown. But the things he did well, and can still do well, he did really well.
At the start of the summer, I reviewed some of the Eagles’ games from 2014. I started this review with a clear bias. I wanted to find reasons to write about benching Clever, or even dropping him from the side altogether. My bias was toward younger players like Danny Barrett and Cam Dolan and, maybe John Quill and Andrew Durutalo. They can’t all play at once, along with guys like Samu Manoa and Scott LaValla and Hayden Smith. Someone had to sit, and I thought it should be Clever.
If you watch the matches closely, though, it is clear that Clever played well for the Eagles in 2014. I had to give up my bias and recognize Clever’s strengths.
Even looking back at a few matches to create the gif above, it is not hard to find moments or poor play, but it was hard to find Clever making those poor plays.
Our Rugby Wrap Up friend is not alone, though, in asking about the on-field value of Todd Clever. Why is it in question?
The way people think about Clever is shaped by the fact that he was the captain of a team that underperformed, made vein-popping errors, and seemed simply hapless at times.
With him as captain, the Eagles did not seem to give their best performances. He did not seem to be excelling as a captain for the Eagles.
And he has long hair. And he surfs.
“Dude. Brah. I can’t, like, make a hero, ya know, of a guy, who like, catches waves, and like lets people take pictures of him, like, with his shirt off. Like, brah, c’mon!”
From a column: “At almost 33 years old, Clever has certainly lost a step, and some fans were calling out for fresh blood at the flank position even before Tolkin dismissed him.”
Ooh, ooh, ooh! I was one of those fans! He is talking about me! Or the me that existed until I went back and tried to support my position. Todd Clever’s play smothered that me with a pillow.
On-field reasons for dropping Clever don’t exist.
From one comment: “Over rated opportunistic, showboating player who played like a guy more focused on being a WWF heel than a good captain.”
He might be overrated. If he is, that’s not his fault. Opportunitic? I hope so. Showboating? I simply can’t recall anything that justifies this.
Broadcasters and journalists without a deep knowledge on a specific subject tend to work around simple narratives. When Todd Clever was playing in South Africa or Japan, he was THE AMERICAN. When he played for the Eagles, he was MR. AWESOME “plying his trade overseas.” That wasn’t really fair to him. Wyles gets to be “Mr. Steady and Reliable.” Mike Petri gets to be “Mr. Gritty New York-Guy.” Takudzwa Ngwenya gets to be “Mr. Ate Habana for Lunch.” Players are put into roles because it is convenient, but they don’t always control how they are placed.
Yep. He was in the ESPN The Magazine Body Issue naked.
Here is the behind the scenes video of making a ‘nekid calendar’ for Stade Francais featuring Scott LaValla. We still like Scott LaValla!
Chris Wyles posing for a calendar? Here ya go. We still like Chris Wyles!
Clever can’t be criticized for sometimes seeming like a silly poseur because most professional rugby players sometimes are asked to strike silly poses.
The Eagles’ squad seems pretty ready to compete at the Rugby World Cup. The back row that starts against Samoa and subsequent matches, and the players on the bench, will be strong. But Clever, his ball-carrying especially, will be missed.
All I can really write about is what has happened on the field. I did email coach Mike Tolkin some questions earlier in the summer which he did not answer. I did not follow up. I did ask Eric Fry what his thoughts were on Clever’s dismissal, but I didn’t ask him exactly what happened. He did say: “He’s a good friend, a good player. It’s too bad he’s not here. With where we are now, none of that [talking about his dismissal] is very helpful…We’re just going to get on with playing.”
Despite having had opportunities to dig deeper into the dismissal itself, I largely declined. Ultimately, I don’t know if Tolkin made the right decision.
If the Eagles win two matches at the World Cup, then they will have shaped the narrative of their tournament. If they play poorly, it is likely Clever will still be part of the narrative.
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