Selecting a completely untried flyhalf for an international team, even a 7s team, is a risk.
No matter how well a player does in the club or all-star scene, conventional wisdom says players need to be brought in carefully. That’s what happened with Jone Naqica, and that’s what happened with Nese Malifa.
But Folau Niua didn’t have that luxury. He was put in as the starting flyhalf for the USA 7s team for the entire Pan Am Games without playing a second for the USA before.
And you wouldn’t know it. Offensively the Eagles performed well, when they had the ball. Niua helped produce tries with his passing, his tactical kicking, and his own running. He was fast enough to support the likes of Mile Pulu, Maka Unufe and Rocco Mauer, and smart enough to spot an opportunity for a grubber kick.
As a goalkicker he did the job superbly (even accepting that many USA tries were right near the posts). He attempted 18 conversions, and hit 14, a success rate of 78% (the entire 2010-2011 IRB World Series average was 62%, with Australia the best core team with 69%).
If the Eagles scored the same number of tries this coming season as they did last season (taking into account the fact there is one more tournament,) that would mean 88 more points, or just under an extra two points per game.
The Eagles lost four games by two points.
So all of that puts the East Palo Alto native at the center of the USA’s hopes going forward.
“It’s been a big change from East Palo Alto to playing with [San Francisco] Golden Gate, to the USA team,” Niua told RUGBYMag.com. “I just was working my way up and then Coach calls me and says, come play for the USA. So here I am.”
Playing with plenty of talented, and fast, players, Niua says he just tries to put those players in a position to succeed.
“It’s a lot of work keeping up with these guys,” he said. “A lot of work. But the important thing is communication. When they I come after them I let them now where I am - on their right or left – you have to communicate.”
Niiua is also tasked with taking the restarts, and that’s becoming an attacking platform for the USA.
“I can kick off both feet,” he said. “I’ve been working on the timing a lot. We practice it a lot and I started doing it when [Al Caravelli] called me and told me to practice on both sides. Zack Test likes me to kick to the right, so I do that, and when he’s not playing I go to the left too.”
Talented, Nuia has plenty of poise, too, which is hard to come by. Perhaps it comes from just being at peace.
“I thank God every day,” he said. “God is good and I just let him lead the way, and I know everything will be OK.”
Maybe the Eagles should say that about Folau Niua, too.