Picking himself up after a rotten 0-7 summer, USA Head Coach Mike Tolkin is going to announce his camp to prepare for the Americas Rugby Championship in October.
This year’s ARC has a lot riding on it. With three Eagle coaches having left, Tolkin could well be using the ARC as a way to test out new coaches. At the same time, with the Eagles having performed poorly, plenty of players are under fire.
The main reason some of them stayed in the lineup was because there wasn’t anyone waiting in the wings. This year’s ARC will be more than just finding young guys and testing them in a quasi-international setting, this will be about finding players who can push current Eagles, or replace them.
At RUGBYMag.com we’ve come up with a list of about 100 players who could legitimately be considered potential Eagles. Of those, 12-15 are playing overseas. A few more are injured, others are locked in with the USA 7s team, others are in school, and a few others are established Eagles. That all means that the pool of potential ARC players keeps shrinking every time you include another reason for someone’s absence.
But … there are players out there. Here’s what we suspect will happen with the team:
Tolkin will only bring in players who have a legitimate shot at challenging for a USA spot. He wants an extended camp in April and will bring in others (maybe a few 7s guys if they can be available in April) as well.
There’s a huge competition right now for the #2 jersey. Chris Biller has not lit the world on fire despite some significant physical gifts. He has often been criticized for his poor work rate, and it slowed again in August. So it could be that players such as Zach Fenoglio (throwing not as solid as Biller’s, but work rate better) Cameron Falcon (young, but talented) get a very close look.
Tolkin is also looking at props. One interesting name is Phil Thiel. While Thiel didn’t get a lot of time this summer, he has reportedly lost 30 pounds while he gets into shape and is expected to be more fit come October. He might even move back to hooker.
With the USA back row players perhaps the most secure of the Eagles, it will be a young group in BC in October. Cam Dolan, Danny Barrett, Benji Goff, and Liam Murphy all seem poised to make a statement.
There are big questions also at the halfback hinge. Shaun Davies has an excellent opportunity to push for a more long-term place with the USA. That’s at scrumhalf. At flyhalf it’s an open audition. Toby L’Estrange will likely need to win his place back, and he will have stiff competition from Adam Siddall, who has made no secret about his desire to wear the USA #10. It’s quite possible we’ll see some other candidates, including one or two players about whom fans say “why have the Eagles never looked at this guy?”
If there was ever a time to look at “this guy” it is now. Folau Niua won’t be there, of course, as he is with the USA 7s team. All of those 7s players will be locked up for October.
With Seamus Kelly still injured and Andrew Suniula expected to be unavailable, the centers at the ARC will be hope-to-bes. L’Estrange might be looked at there. Same with Siddall. You might also see a few more guys from California in camp. Last year the ARC was a tournament many players were suspicious of. This year, more players now see that if they want to push for a place on the Eagles, then they need to be in playing shape in October.
What is playing shape? The Eagles were under fire from some observers for their fitness this summer. Maybe the best first impression a player at the ARC can make is to arrive physically able to take control. The best second impression? Well they will be playing Uruguay. If they can compete well against the team standing in the way of the USA’s spot at the 2015 World Cup, maybe they can be in the big games in April.