USA Head Coach Mike Tolkin was a little worried about players getting injured in the Super League Final, but he didn’t lose sleep over it.
Even after Toby L’Estrange left injured, he didn’t regret the idea, especially since on the same day he was running a scrimmage game for the players still at camp.
“I am one of those guys, where once we’re committed to something, I don’t worry about it,” Tolkin told RUGBYMag.com. “Guys can get injured coming down from a lineout. It’s a contact game, injuries happen. Everyone felt really bad for Toby; he’d been traiing really hard and looked good; he was looking forward to the opportunity. But it happens.”
The scrimmage at West Point went very well. Tolkin got a lot of players rusty from time off some game time, and also saw some things on the film to discuss in training.
“Any time you get into a game, you have film, and that’s valuable,” he said. “We were able to see some things we could coach. So I got what I wanted out of it all.”
L’Estrange looked to be on the inside track to be the team’s flyhalf. That won’t happen now, so US Military Academy flyhalf Will Holder throws on the #10 jersey. Roland Suniula could have taken that job, but Tolkin decided to go with the youngster.
“We’re fine with Will,” said Tolkin. “He is a future player. It’s a little bit initiation by fire but this is the only time we can get him games. Putting young guys in this position is kind of expected, and at the beginning of the World Cup cycle, this seemed like a good time.”
Holder is not the only new cap.
“Andrew Durutalo has been playing very well in 7s; let’s see how he does in 15s,” said Tolkin. And wing Luke Hume is very experience, just not as an Eagle. “Luke has always been a impressive player in the Super League. When I was coaching against him, he always did very well against us. He is a very balanced, dangerous runner and we’re looking for him to do what he does.”
Hume plays fullback for Old Blue, and he joins James Paterson and Chris Wyles, also players who have played fullback at a high level. Their combined ability to manage the kicking game, and with Wyles being left-footed, gives them enormously flexibility in handling Canada’s kicking attack.
Canada likes to kick against the USA, and it usually works for them. Hume, Paterson, and Wyles will have some work to do.
Up front, Tolkin didn’t try many experiments. Durutalo is a new cap, but the rest are not.
“Some of these players are ready to take the next step up,” said the coach. “Eric Fry is moving from a fringe player to a player we can count on at prop. Scott LaValla is the same thing, a strong fringe player who now is probably going to step into a role.”
No. 8 is still up for grabs. Todd Clever is there now, but on this team alone, Durutalo, LaValla, Lou Stanfill, and Taylor Mokate can all play there.
“Todd was the best player to handle what we wanted out of a No. 8 this weekend,” Tolkin said. “He’s a good athlete, has good ball-handling skills. The connection between him and halfback was the main reason we picked him, but we know we have some maneuverability in that position.”
Now the Eagles look ahead to Saturday’s game. Suddenly, after all the talk, the game is here, and the USA looks to close the frustration gap with Canada.
In 2011 the Eagles lost twice to the Canadians, one game where they should have won but for a couple of silly mistakes, and one where they dominated possession, but couldn’t close the deal.
Tolkin has been working on tactics and certainly instilling a pattern of play. But in this, his first game with the team, he wants to make a statement.
“After our camp we’re really getting comfortable playing in a certain style,” he said. “So what we want to instill in the squad is that we fight for each other, play for each other, and have respect for each other. We look at this game as the cornerstone of how we play. Strategies and tactics will come,; right now we look at answering the question, how do we want to play; how do want to be known when we play?”