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Now, of course the teams will be picked on form and health. Head Coach Mike Tolkin will be evaluating the team throughout the assembly (now underway). Obviously the USA coaches will know more than I about each day and each practice.

But ... let's imagine that no one gets badly injured, and no one has a hissy-fit. Let's look at how you might assemble each team given what you need from each player (play 20 minutes here and there, play 80 minutes everywhere, learn and observe, provide an insurance policy).

So let's look at Game 1, November 9 against the Maori All Blacks.

Some of the choices are obvious - Thiel, Pittman, LaValla, Clever, Petri, L'Estrange, Suniula - so we'll talk about the question-marks.

I choose Nick Wallace over others because he was showing the best form in the ARC, and we have specific plans for Titi Lamositele. In addition, Patrick Latu is in camp for just this game, why not get him on the bench? At least see what he can do over 20-25 minutes.

At second row, Tai Tuisamoa has thrust himself into contention, and probably played a bit better than Graham Harriman in the ARC. The other lock could be Harriman, but you sometimes have to look at the totality of athletes you have at your disposal, so let's look at the second and back row together.

Cam Dolan should get some time at No. 8 because he really played well there in the ARC. This frees Todd Clever to be a flanker. Now, he could be #7, but Peter Dahl is only available for this game. So, why not start Dahl, against the country of his birth, and give him the best chance to shine?

Scott LaValla, however, is among the best USA players, and has to be on the field. So put him in at lock, thus maximizing your player pool.

In the centers, Seamus Kelly has to get a shot to show us more, so he starts. At wing, it could be Zach Pangelinan, or maybe Joe Cowley. Maupin is a bit more physical than those two, and that's why he's in there.

At fullback, again Pangelinan and Cowley come into play. It would be unfair to put Cowley in as fullback against the Maori on his debut. Pangelinan is indeed a possibility, but Siddall is a bit more physical, and his availability for the ARC should count for something, right?

On the bench. Zach Fenoglio is the obvious backup hooker, and I already addressed Latu and Lamositele. Harriman is the backup lock. Kyle Sumsion is on the bench as a flanker because this is the only chance for Mike Tolkin to see him in a game situation. Sumsion was excellent for BYU this past season, and deserves a look.

Now, remember, this is a game that the USA is unlikely to win; Not being a downer here, but the Maori are 2-0 against the USA, and 28-5 against international teams (should be 29-4 but I'll tell you about that some other time); so with that in mind, your subs aren't going to make the difference between winning and losing. If it's close and you are worried, then don't use a guy, fine. But this is a good time to experiment with a player for 20 minutes.

Folau Niua is the backup flyhalf, and here's a guy who is taking himself out of 7s training for this, so use him. Pangelinan is ideal on the bench because he can cover flyhalf, wing, and fullback, so if you need help at center, either L'Estrange or Siddall moves, easy.

The guys not used are Blake Burdette (let's not move too fast with him, OK?), Cowley (very new), and John Cullen (even newer).

Suggested USA Lineup v Maori All Blacks
1    Nick Wallace
2    Phil Thiel
3    Shawn Pittman
4    Tai Tuisamoa
5    Scott LaValla
6    Todd Clever
7    Peter Dahl
8    Cam Dolan
9    Mike Petri
10    Toby L'Estrange
11    Tim Maupin
12    Andrew Suniula
13    Seamus Kelly
14    Luke Hume
15    Adam Siddall

16    Zach Fenoglio
17    Patrick Latu
18    Titi Lamositele
19    Graham Harriman
20    Kyle Sumsion
21    Shaun Davies
22    Folau Niua
23    Zach Pangelinan

Not Used
Blake Burdette
Joe Cowley
John Cullen

Read on for thoughts on USA v Georgia and USA v Russia


USA v. Georgia
Titi Lamositele has to get a USA start to get a contract at Saracens. Given that the USA v Russia game is at the Saracens home field, let's have him make his starting debut somewhere else. This is the time.

At second row, Samu Manoa is the obvious choice to come in at lock, and with his power in there, maybe you move LaValla to flanker and Harriman comes in at second row. Georgia is a tough scrummaging team, so that's why I think the engine room is crucial here.

The back row is a tough one, though. Clever, LaValla, and Dolan are my choices, but if you have Inaki Basauri and Derek Asbun for limited time, shouldn't you use them?

I figure to put them both on the bench and have all the starting flankers as backup at lock, but I have big reservations about this, because the Georgia game will be about who wins the battle in tight. Size, in this case, matters.

At flyhalf, Folau Niua is kind of taking a risk in going with the 15s team. I applaud it, but also perhaps he needs a reward, like a start. Keep L'Estrange fresh for London, and thus allow us to rest Niua before Dubai, by starting Niua in Tbilisi.

Blaine Scully could be fullback, and we'll get there, but let's put him in at wing. Chris Wyles in for Seamus Kelly at outside center.

On the bench, Eric Fry will get another shot, and while I have serious reservations about Blake Burdette's fitness, this is the chance to see him in a game situation. But if Burdette doesn't cut it in camp (same with Basauri, coming off injury, and Pangelinan integrating into a somewhat new system) then he could be a spectator for the entire trip.

Suggested USA Lineup v Georgia
1    Titi Lamositele
2    Phil Thiel
3    Shawn Pittman
4    Samu Manoa
5    Graham Harriman
6    Todd Clever
7    Scott LaValla
8    Cam Dolan
9    Mike Petri
10    Folau Niua
11    Blaine Scully
12    Andrew Suniula
13    Chris Wyles
14    Luke Hume
15    Adam Siddall

16    Zach Fenoglio
17    Eric Fry
18    Blake Burdette
19    Inaki Basauri
20    Derek Asbun
21    Shaun Davies
22    Toby L'Estrange
23    Seamus Kelly

Not Used
Joe Cowley
John Cullen
Tim Maupin
Nick Wallace
Zach Pangelinan




USA v Russia
Finally, the Russia game in London should be the big reward. Whoever plays well and trains well through the month should start here.

I sincerely doubt Phil Thiel will lose his starting position, and I think we will still see two Chuckanut props in the front row. The big question, for me, is how you handle the back row? Do you look to get Inaki Basauri on, or Derek Asbun? Frankly, I don't see how they start.

You could look at putting Samu Manoa at No. 8, where he would be a terror if everyone were comfortable. I have gone with Manoa and Tuisamoa in the second row, and Clever, LaValla, and Dolan at 6, 7 and 8. At this point, though, you could see some moving around.

I have John Cullen on the bench. He is a physical specimen and in this game, you might see a UK club or too have a look at a potential signing. Cullen, as green as he is, has some tools that would appeal.

Robbie Shaw is a terrific guy to have come in on tour, but at this point, if you don't think Shaun Davies can start, why have him there? I also figure that you might wish to give Folau Niua a break, as he will be on a plane to Dubai for the 7s team. So, unless he's been so awesome that he's the #1 man at flyhalf, I would sit him and start Toby L'Estrange.

In the rest of the backs, it's a case of musical chairs. Andrew Suniula is probably your inside center, but this or the previous game might be time to look at Siddall or Kelly there.

I have Wyles back at center, with Hume and Cowley the wings, and Blaine Scully at fullback. But you might just as easily choose Wyles at fullback, Scully on the wing instead of Cowley, and Seamus Kelly at outside center. We could even put Cowley at fullback (!). And I am still looking this over trying to find more time for Zach Pangelinan.

v Russia
1    Titi Lamositele
2    Phil Thiel
3    Shawn Pittman
4    Samu Manoa
5    Tai Tuisamoa
6    Todd Clever
7    Scott LaValla
8    Cam Dolan
9    Shaun Davies
10    Toby L'Estrange
11    Joe Cowley
12    Andrew Suniula
13    Chris Wyles
14    Luke Hume
15    Blaine Scully

16    Zach Fenoglio
17    Eric Fry
18    Nick Wallace
19    John Cullen
20    Derek Asbun or Graham Harriman
21    Robbie Shaw
22    Adam Siddall
23    Seamus Kelly


Guys I don't use in the third game:
Tim Maupin and Zach Pangelinan, because they have already played and Joe Cowley has not; Blake Burdette because he might well have done his job by then; Derek Asbun or Graham Harriman, because there's only room for one of them. And finally, probably Folau Niua, because he is playing in Dubai a week later.

So this exercise is designed to, first of all, give you an idea of who I think are the best players for the roles on the team at the moment. In addition, I want you to see how tough the selection job is. Yes, Mike Tolkin wants to win, but he also has to look ahead to the World Cup Qualifiers next March, knowing that he could be without some overseas professionals. Therefore, he has to continue to nurture USA-based talent.

And finally, he has to struggle with the concept of whether a player deserves minutes just because he's on tour. As former USA Coach said during the 2003 World Cup, it's not Little League ... you're not guaranteed a game. And as Tolkin has said, a cap should not be given away. Both of those statements are true enough, but we all know it can be more complicated than that.