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It might seem premature 10 months out, but in reality, the Eagles won’t meet again until July, 2015, so we’ve seen all the rugby the United States will play until they’re just weeks from selection deadline for the Rugby World Cup. You’ll see an initial squad of hopefuls listed, but ultimately, only 30 will get on a plane for England.
The storyline of expanding a World Cup player pool through the fall internationals was one spun by USA Rugby, seemingly somewhat to deflect criticism of the deal with the Premiership that saw several top-line players unavailable for the European tour. While several players did raise their hand and step up in the absence of veterans, when I break down the 30 spots by position, I don’t foresee many of those performances dramatically changing the selections for England.
Hooker (3 taken in 2011)
The Premiership deal didn’t affect this position at all. Phil Thiel and Tom Coolican have been the guys, and they’re locks for 2015, barring injury. If Mike Tolkin sees the need for a third hooker, like Eddie O’Sullivan did before him, Zach Fenoglio would seem to be in line for that spot. However, it’s not inconceivable a guy like Chris Biller might be dragged back out. After all, Brian McClenahan was in 2011.
Prop (4 taken in 2011)
In 2011, the Eagles took four props – Eric Fry, Mike MacDonald, Shawn Pittman and Mate Moeakiola. Fry is a shoe-in to return, and it would seem that Olive Kilifi and Nick Wallace are locks, too. I’ve got to think Titi Lamositele is in pole position for that fourth slot, given he's in a full-time professional training environment with Saracens. Even if Lamositele isn’t a lock, only one spot remains to be filled by the likes of an aging Moeakiola, or youngsters Ben Tarr or Angus Maclellan.
Back of the Scrum (9 taken in 2011)
You can’t really talk second row without including the back row, as there will be multiple players who can play both. In 2011, two specialty locks were taken and two guys who played No. 8 almost exclusively were picked, but overall there were nine taken between the second and back rows.
Samu Manoa, Todd Clever, Hayden Smith, Scott Lavalla, Danny Barrett and Cam Dolan would appear to be in. Samu and Hayden regularly play lock, and Clever and Lavalla have plenty of experience there. Dolan and Barrett are more of your back row specialists. Lou Stanfill can swing between either row, and might be included for his experience. John Quill has been a rock for the USA when selected, and I think he’s earned a spot. He’s the closest thing Tolkin has to a pure openside.
That really leaves one spot up for grabs, and probably for someone who’s considered more of a lock than a flanker. Personally, I don’t understand why Brian Doyle isn't an automatic selection, but Tolkin and his staff seem to be underwhelmed by him. Tai Tuisamoa would appear to be firmly next in line, but given his age, it’s conceivable John Cullen, Greg Peterson or a Graham Harriman could be selected instead with an eye toward the future. If Cullen or Peterson were picked, they’d be the first real product of the playing time made available on the fall tour by the Premiership deal.
Scrumhalf (2 taken in 2011)
Mike Petri and Shalom Suniula are the guys. Shaun Davies and Chris Saint have been given ample opportunity to impress, and they haven’t sniffed caps.
Flyhalf (2 taken in 2011)
This one gets kind of interesting. Adam Siddall played really well when healthy in the ARC and against New Zealand. He has a booming leg, and he can play other positions. But he’s now sat out with concussion issues twice in the last several months. That’s worrisome. If he’s healthy enough to be in form before the World Cup and is available for selection, he will be on the team.
Toby L’Estrange is still injured, and he’s not off the radar, but like Siddall, he can play other positions. I have him slotted into the team at center.
AJ MacGinty will become Eagle eligible in the next few months. He’s the best flyhalf in America, Tolkin coached him at the New York Athletic Club, and if they were being honest, several coaches involved with, or close to, the National Team would tell you they’ve been counting down the days until MacGinty became eligible through residence.
Any way you slice it, no depth was added here during the November tour.
Centers (4 taken in 2011)
Andrew Suniula, Seamus Kelly and Thretton Palamo are in. Count on that. Troy Hall and Folau Niua, I think, are in, too, and could be counted as centers. They could also be counted elsewhere, which is what I’ve done to make room for L’Estrange. Like with flyhalf, no depth was added to the centers through the fall tour, unless Ron MacLean somehow finds his way onto the team.
Back Three (6 taken in 2011)
Blaine Scully and Chris Wyles are in. Folau Niua should be a lock, and he showed on the fall tour that he can play fullback well enough in a pinch. Brett Thompson will be a lock, and Zee Ngwenya proved still potent. If Ngwenya has won back the coaching staff as an ally, he’s in.
That leaves one spot left. Luke Hume’s been a good 15s Eagle, and Tim Maupin has played well enough. The one possible unearthed gem of the fall is Tim Stanfill. He stormed onto the scene with a handful of tries between the ARC and the tour, and if he’s selected for England, it can only be because of the playing time created by the absence of Wyles and Scully, as well as the injury to Thompson. However, Troy Hall, I think, is a valuable guy because he can cover 15, wing and in the centers. That is ultimately why I slotted him in as a back three guy.
|1||Eric Fry||Titi Lamositele|
|2||Phil Thiel||Tom Coolican||Zach Fenoglio|
|3||Olive Kilifi||Nick Wallace|
|4||Samu Manoa||Tai Tuisamoa|
|5||Hayden Smith||Lou Stanfill|
|7||Scott Lavalla||John Quill|
|8||Danny Barrett||Cam Dolan|
|9||Mike Petri||Shalom Suniula|
|10||AJ MacGinty||Adam Siddall|
|12||Thretton Palamo||Andrew Suniula||Toby L'Estrange|
|13||Chris Wyles||Seamus Kelly|
|14||Takudzwa Ngwenya||Troy Hall|
|15||Blaine Scully||Folau Niua|