You are here
Two World Cup veterans have returned to the Eagles for the fall tour. Prop Mate Moeakiola and wing Takudzwa Ngwenya, both of whom play professionally in France, are back after long layoffs. Moeakiola hasn’t played for the USA since the 2011 World Cup, and Ngwenya hasn’t played since the Rugby World Cup qualifiers against Canada in the summer of 2013.
Moeakiola is coming back to help fill a void in the front row, left by the unavailability of Eric Fry for the rankings tests against Romania, Tonga and Fiji, the injury to Titi Lamositele and retirement of Shawn Pittman. The 36-year-old has been playing third division for Castanet, and says he moved to the lower division for better mobility to be selected by the Eagles.
“He looks in good shape. He’s playing regularly,” said Tolkin of Moeakiola. “We’ll have [Nick] Wallace and Ollie [Kilifi] and then we’ll have two of the young boys. So we’ll carry an extra prop into November, and it's opportunity for guys.”
Moeakiola never fell off the radar, but injuries have set him back.
“We had intended to bring [Mate] on to other trips over the last two years and, both times, he got injured before he come on to the tour,” Tolkin said. “This is kind of a chance for us to see what his form is like…It’s an opportunity for a veteran who’s a good prop to work with some of the young guys, as well.”
Ngwenya’s absence has been a little more glaring. An automatic selection when available for most of his career, he disappeared after the first round of World Cup qualifiers against Canada. He was asked to return for the second round of qualifiers against Uruguay, but declined.
It’s not 100-percent clear why he opted not to play against Uruguay, but his club, Biarritz, was fighting to avoid relegation from the Top 14 at the time. Ultimately, the effort failed, and Biarritz and Ngwenya are now in France’s second division. Even though clubs are required to release players at certain times, some guys are pressured to stay nonetheless, a la Samu Manoa’s missing out on the 2011 World Cup.
“We’ve communicated since. He still wants to be a member of the Eagles,” said Tolkin of Ngwenya. “He knows he has to earn management and players’ respect back, and that will be part of his process…He’s a great player, he was always a good Eagle when he was with the squad, and he just has to reestablish trust.”
Moeakiola and Ngwenya will certainly inject experience into the Eagles squad for the November games. Ngwenya will be with the team in Europe only, whereas Moeakiola will be available for the All Blacks game. If they return to the USA in the same form they left, the Eagles will be better off.