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It's not a surprise, but USA 7s Head Coach Matt Hawkins will struggle to find players for the upcoming Tokyo 7s and Hong Kong 7s.
With Shalom Suniula and Andrew Durutalo suiting up for 15s teams (Seattle-OPSB and OMBAC, respectively), one wonders if they are looking at 15s World Cup prospects - certainly Suniula will be in the USA camp upcoming, and Mike Tolkin has said he is interested in Suniula as a scrumhalf/flyhalf hybrid much like Tolkin himself used to win the 2008 Super League title at NYAC.
Add to that the fact that Folau Niua and Carlin Isles are playing in Glasgow (Isles is reportedly going to be available for 7s, but, as we've seen, plans change), and you've got a recipe for change.
In fact, of the 12 men who won the Plate at the Tokyo 7s in 2013, only four - Nick Edwards, Zack Test, Durutalo, and Brett Thompson, are highly likely to be on the trip this year.
Hawkins is not panicking - this is why he expanded the list of players, and why Alex Magleby is working on the team pathway.
"From my perspective it's a continual pattern - players going to play professionally in 15s," Hawkins told RUGBYMag.com. "It's a good thing for our program. I hope a lot of kids see that they can use the 7s team to further their rugby career; see that guys have come here, done well, and signed contracts. I think that's fantastic. That's also why we've got 25 players in residency."
Hawkins actually wants more. He wants some of the U20s in residency and to get the numbers up to 30 or so.
"Then with those guys and the Development Academies we will have a real support structure," the coach said. "When you bring players into camp and you've got only 14, you can't play against each other. The numbers just aren't there. We have to develop these numbers."
Adding to the numbers issue for Hawkins is the fact that the USA 15s team is in assembly starting now. There's been a little back-and-forth between Tolkin and Hawkins, but both coaches say it's good communication. From those discussions it was decided that Danny Barrett would have more opportunity for playing time with the 7s team, given how stacked the USA team is with veteran loose forwards.
Nu'u Punimata and Stephen Tomasin are carrying injuries, opening up spots. It's possible Hawkins will take something of a flyer with Thretton Palamo. The former Eagle has been playing football at the University of Utah, and certainly in doing so developed different habits and a different type of fitness. But he is also a special athlete, and could be an impact sub.
Rookie Madison Hughes looked in Wellington as if he's been there all along. The highly-poised Dartmouth star has some schooling to finish, so that's a question, also.
But several players have emerged through this weird season when Hawkins has blooded a number of athletes. Pono Haitsuka has grown from a small, fast guy who seemed a little confused to a confident, and physically stronger man who is still plenty speedy. Garrett Bender is another guy who has matured. He struggled in his first time with the USA team under Alex Magleby. But time away to learn some things and let the hunger develop has helped him enormously. Both of those players found themselves starting on Day Two in Wellington, and that's no coincidence.
Central to the team remains Zack Test and Nick Edwards. Edwards has been the captain, and is close to Hawkins. He has also found himself on and off the starting lineup. When he is playing with confidence and distributing as well as attacking, he can create victories. Test can be almost anything he wants to be on the 7s field - a power forward, a wing, a kicker, a defensive specialist. When he brings all of those to the fore, he is one of the best.
But he is also someone who takes a while to fully trust those around him. If he trusts he (relatively) new teammates, and those teammates earn that trust, that will bode well for the Eagles.
What does seem clear, though, is that the USA squad will have another new player on the plane to Asia. It could be Palamo, or Ben Leaatigaga, or Will Holder, Mike Ziegler, or Nese Malifa. There are all sorts of options for Hawkins.
Maybe he didn't want to have to make such decisions now, but seems to have expected it all along.
The Tokyo 7s kicks off Friday, March 21 for USA fans. The Eagles' first game is against Samoa at 10:22am local time, which is 9:22pm EDT, 6:22pm PDT. They play Fiji three hours later, and France at 4:30am Saturday March 22 EDT, which is 1:22am PDT.