The good news is that there are many American rugby players playing professionally overseas.
Seven players are signed with Aviva Premiership clubs, which is likely a record. Two are with French Top 14 teams, with another two signed with French Pro D2 teams. The second tier in England and Ireland boasts five, possibly more, and one player is in the Japan Top League.
But in the end, the race for Overseas Performer of the Year comes down to four: Samu Manoa of the Northampton Saints, Chris Wyles of Saracens, Scott LaValla of Stade Francais, and Todd Clever of NTT Shining Arcs.
Of these, Clever has had as much of an impact for his team as anyone. He scored the winning try in the game that secured the Shining Arcs a winning season for the first time ever, and has been central to their best efforts this year. However, NTT is not a strong team and the Japan Top League is not the toughest league. Clever is great, but some others have been great on bigger stages this year.
Scott LaValla is an awesome player and becoming a major part of Stade Francais and will be far into the future. He has become a regular starter, but isn’t their star player … yet.
So, for us at RUGBYMag.com World Headquarters, the contest for Overseas Performer of the Year is between Manoa and Wyles. Both have been brilliant for supremely successful teams. Both are known for being Americans and despite not being local players, have been celebrated by the media and their clubs. Both have helped raise the estimation of American rugby in the Premiership (as evidenced by the fact that the Saints and Saracens have signed other Eagles).
It’s a tough decision, but for the second year in a row with go with Samu Manoa. The Premiership’s October Player of the Month, said Will Greenwood in the Daily Telegraph, “does what he does, week in, week out in a Northampton Saints jersey. He can play 4, 5, 6, or 8, and would be a shoo-in for any starting XV other than the All Blacks or South Africa. However, even there he would be in the squad because Samu is someone you would make room for in your team.”
Wyles, who won this awards in 2011, would be an excellent choice, and if he calls us up to complain we won’t have much to say in our defense. He’s been a defensive and offensive lynchpin for an excellent Saracens team, playing inside center, outside center, wing and fullback.
But Manoa seems to be even more the central workhorse of his team. He scores tries, makes tries, and, as a lock or No. 8, is in the thick of everything, especially defensively. He makes as many tackles as anyone, and gets full value for them. People go to watch rugby games to see Samu Manoa rattle teeth. And he’s ours.