USA 7s Head Coach Al Caravelli might have wanted to turn around with most, if not all, of the Pan-Am squad for the beginning of the HSBC Sevens World Series.
But it was not to be. With Roland Suniula, Blaine Scully and Mile Pulu injured, and Maka Unufe and Rocco Mauer both running into issues that made them unavailable, Caravelli was forced into some changes.
He also made some voluntary ones, choosing to drop, for now, Nu’u Punimata and Justin Boyd.
So six of the 12 that won bronze at the Pan-Am Games are not going to Gold Coast, Dubai, and Port Elizabeth.
In their place, Caravelli has brought in Miles Craigwell, Mike Palefau, Matt Hawkins, Nick Edwards, Tai Enosa and Duncan Kelm.
Only Craigwell and Kelm aren't coming back from injury.
The coach said some of these players would surely have made the team if everyone was healthy. But it’s still good to have backup when the injuries hit. Consider the center position, where Roland Suniula, Pulu, and Paul Emerick left a big hole. It’s good that Palefau, available for the first time in years, can step in.
On the wing, Edwards is back after a year away from the team. He is experienced and savvy, and beats out Mauer because of that.
Meanwhile Enosa brings great versatility as a back. He can play scrumhalf, flyhalf and center, and is as good as any player at sidestepping through traffic.
Craigwell was flat-out dropped for Pan-Ams, The wing is trying to convert to hooker, and hasn’t made the switch entirely. But his play at the Carlton 7s Series in Sri Lanka showed he can play as a forward, and his physicality will be welcome on the team.
Hawkins looked to be struggling with his form coming back, but Caravelli said last year’s captain had an outstanding camp. His savvy at the breakdown will be useful.
Then there’s Duncan Kelm. Perhaps overlooked despite being at many USA camps, the former San Diego State All American stood out because of his defense and his decision-making.
Caravelli didn’t agree with the premise that this is not as fast a group as the team that went to Guadalajara. Despite the USA being without Unufe and Mauer, said Caravelli, the USA team is, overall, faster.
The team is, overall bigger and more physical. Asked whether that was on purpose as the USA faces the tougher defenses of the World Series, Caravelli shook his head.
“I said before I could see that Pan Ams team going on to the series,” he explained. “I pick the best players, and if all those players from Pan Ams were available, this team might have been similar to that one. You select guys on form, and this is the team on form.”