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It’s been 16 months since Greg Peterson has suited up for the USA. The Australian second row earned his first cap for the Eagles back in 2014, and he’s accrued 12 in total, but injuries and poor timing have derailed an international career that got off to a promising start. He’s encamped with the USA in Frankfurt currently, looking forward to starting Saturday’s test against Germany.
At 6’8” and having played for the Waratahs and the Australian U20 national team, Peterson, who qualifies for the USA via his American grandfather (fun fact: his dad played football at Northwestern), was a no-brainer for then-USA coach Mike Tolkin to bring into camp ahead of the November tour back in 2014. It’s rare the Eagles come across such an intriguing prospect with elite size and legitimate pedigree who also possesses the ability and desire to play for America.
His impact was immediate. He came off the bench in his debut against Romania, earning starts in the remaining two matches of that tour. From his first cap through the World Cup, he was a fixture in the top 15, earning starts in nine of the USA’s 11 contests in that span.
Peterson then joined Leicester on a medical joker on the back of his RWC performance that December, and he would ink a deal that kept him with the Tigers through the end of the ‘14/’15 season. With new head coach John Mitchell blooding a large crop of new players in the Americas Rugby Championship that spring, Peterson stayed with Leicester and got his first look under Mitchell in the June tests, where he earned his lone caps under the coach.
Peterson was then picked up by the Glasgow Warriors, and it was playing for them he suffered a dislocated shoulder last October that would sideline him for several months. Despite coming back at the end of the ‘16/’17 season for Glasgow, including coming off the bench in the Warriors’ loss to eventual champ Saracens in the European quarterfinals, he wasn’t selected for the RWC qualifiers or June tests.
“I was disappointed to be injured for the November Tour last year and then left out for the summer tests. I love playing for my nation. It sucks when you’re not included and watching from home, so it’s great to be back with the team,” Peterson told RugbyToday.
“Mitch, at the time, believed I wasn’t ready, which might have been the case. I hadn’t played much that season.”
At the end of the summer, Peterson logged his first proper preseason since having played with the Waratahs prior to his Eagle debut. Now, he feels good and seems ready to contribute again.
“It’s good to be back,” he said. “There are always a few niggles and bumps and bruises you pick up along the way, but in terms of any big injuries or real setbacks, it’s good to be back at 100-percent.”
With Gary Gold named the next USA head coach but unavailable to actually take the reins until Worcester finds his replacement or the end of the European club season, Dave Hewett has stepped in as interim. So in a three-year span, Peterson is set to play for his third Eagles coach, and when Gold comes on fully in 2018, it’ll be four coaches in as many years.
“We never have to take a step back. Almost every coach has built off the last. Mike gave us the skills and the general game plan that everybody played, and we were able to string that together at some parts during his tenure,” said Peterson.
“When Mitch came in it very much became metric, and it was pretty much the way New Zealand train for games, their philosophies, so everything became metric, and we’ve definitely ramped up the speed, ramped up the contact a fair bit, and everything was periodized. Now, we’re still very similar to how it was with Mitch.
“Dave Hewett will be with us when Gary Gold comes in, so he will very much depict what I’m sure those two have discussed what they want out of the team and how they want to achieve it. Right now, Dave is an interim coach, but he’ll be very much a voice for what Gary Gold wants.
“It can be difficult at times, coaching changes, but in the same sense we’ve been able to adapt and change and become better for it.”
Saturday’s challenge is a new one, as the USA and Germany have never met on the pitch before. While still a developing rugby nation, Germany has flexed considerable muscle recently, racking up impressive wins over Romania and Brazil. So even though the Eagles are favored, ranked 17th to Germany’s 22nd, Peterson knows all too well what can happen if the opponent is taken lightly.
“Germany were able to beat Romania, and that’s in our mind. You come up against teams like that with nothing to lose, they’re the hardest teams to play against. If you don’t come with the right mindset, you can sometimes drop to their level,” he said.
“I’ve seen that with almost every team I’ve played for, whether it be with the Waratahs, back with my club, the Hawks or Manly, with Leicester or even Glasgow. You drop to their level and play their game, and that’s when they get the wins and shock everybody, so we’re definitely coming with the mindset that we want get one over Germany and keep our spot above them in the rankings.”
Peterson, still a young man at 26, has reclaimed a starting shirt for Saturday, but he knows that just because he was very successful in his opening stint for the USA, he won’t be given anything by a new coach in a new year.
“We’ve got some great player stocks now,” he said. “We’ve created a lot more depth. It doesn’t matter if you were a part of the last World Cup or not, your position is not guaranteed, so pretty much my goal is to be able to perform, improve season to season, add a few tricks to the arsenal, just get better as a player and become a better person.”