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It’s been an unusual offseason for the 7s Eagles. It was truncated by a home World Cup, and there have been some coaching changes. The Eagles assembled for preseason recently, with the women having already sent a Falcons team to Japan and the men’s Falcons having just arrived in England for a series of scrimmages.
The biggest change was the exit of women’s head coach Richie Walker. Men’s assistant Chris Brown has replaced him in the interim, and he’ll coach the team through the season opener in Glendale Oct. 20-21. In all likelihood, he’ll be coaching them much longer.
Brown is expected to take the job full-time. It makes too much sense to not happen. He’s been encamped in Chula Vista since 2014, when he and Friday took over the men. He’s run the residency program and strength and conditioning ever since. He’s guided Falcons teams on his own, and Friday had him take the Eagles on tour as head coach, too. As well, he already has a working relationship with the women.
The move is a good one for all parties. Brown is primed to take over his own program, and instead of USA Rugby losing him to a job elsewhere, they get to keep a talent in the fold. Brown inherits an incredibly athletic team with big upside, and the team gets a coach with a track record of turning potential into results.
For the men’s program, that leaves a void. Through preseason and the end of the year, Friday will spend more time at base camp filling most of it. JD Stephenson has also been on site for six months, Phil Greening will cover the gaps, and Jon Hood can shoulder the strength and conditioning piece.
Friday will likely add to his staff at some point, but he may look to divide the workload differently in lieu of finding someone to perform Brown’s exact job description.
Change could be a cause for concern, especially given the upcoming season is a qualification vehicle for Tokyo 2020, and the Eagles need to jump two spots in the standings to earn a bid. But for a team that’s plateaued with sixth-, fifth-, sixth- and sixth-place finishes the last four seasons, respectively, change could be exactly what the doctor ordered, too.
The change the doctor definitely didn’t order was the loss of 2017 World Rugby Sevens Player of the Year Perry Baker. As reported by the French press, Baker’s name is being floated around France in the hopes a Top 14 club makes a lucrative offer. Baker has never played 15s rugby of consequence, but his speed and athleticism surely translate.
Carlin Isles attempted a switch to 15s in 2014, signing with the Glasgow Warriors, but it proved short lived. The 32-year-old Baker is probably better suited for the 15s game, but would be slight nonetheless, and considering his age, any team that took a shot at Baker would have a short runway to develop him into a significant contributor.
Baker is fully entrenched in preseason with the 7s team, and unless a lucrative contract offer crystallizes, he’s expected to partake in the upcoming World Series.
The women’s Falcons, led by head coach Dave Clancy, sparred teams from Diana, Cook Islands, New Zealand, Canada and Japan at the Hokkaido Governer’s Cup last month. They finished 2-4, beating Cook Islands twice, while losing once to everyone else.
The team that takes the field in Glendale for the opening leg of the World Series will be wildly different, as the Falcons team was truly developmental. Same for the men’s Falcons who just landed in England for the AF International Sevens in Manchester. The team was originally supposed to include a few more capped Eagles, but a rash of injuries and unavailability have left the team green.
Madison Hughes is captaining the side, and he’s joined by vets Pat Blair, Naima Fualaau, Kevon Williams and Chris Mattina. The rest of the bunch is young and inexperienced. The Falcons will play Spain, England and Germany Saturday and Ireland and France Sunday. The men's Eagles kick off their season in earnest Nov. 30 in Dubai.