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Dennis D Hawk, DoctorHawkPhoto

The first post- John Mitchell era Eagles lineup has been named, with 28 players being tabbed for the extended roster headed to take on Germany in Frankfurt Nov. 18 and Georgia Nov. 25 in Tbilisi. The team is very seasoned, with just a single uncapped player in the mix.

The 28-man roster has shrunk to 27 since being announced, as flanker Tony Lamborn has been suspended four matches for his part in a fight during the final round of Mitre 10 Cup play in New Zealand, where he suited up for Hawkes Bay. That will see Lamborn, who had become the USA’s first-choice openside, out for both November tests.

Even with the expulsion of Lamborn, the 28-man squad is among the most professional and experienced to be named since the 2015 Rugby World Cup. In total, there are 11 overseas-based players who are in professional daily training environments.

Some notable players who didn’t feature much for the Eagles under Mitchell are also making their return under interim head coach Dave Hewett. Eric Fry, currently playing for Vannes in the French Pro D2, played six times for Mitchell, but only once since Mitch’s first tournament, the 2016 Americas Rugby Championship.

Greg Peterson, the 6-8 Australian-American Glasgow Warriors second row, played just twice for Mitchell. Samu Manoa, who usually plays back row for Toulon, also played just twice for Mitchell. Both, along with Fry, were excluded from the World Cup qualifiers this summer. All are back, and they add considerable size and experience to the group.

Hewett being named the interim coach came as somewhat of a surprise. He has the chops, having served as forwards coach for New Zealand’s Junior World Championship winning Baby Blacks earlier this year. Prior to that, he coached the Crusaders in Super Rugby, serving again as the forwards coach. But he has an American connection in Eagles general manager Dave Hodges, who was part of the head coaching search. Hodges and Hewett played for the Llanelli Scarlets together.

Like with the rest of the coaching staff for November, it’s unclear if they are all permanent assistants or a placeholder for incoming head man Gary Gold to consider when he comes aboard full-time following his final season with the Worcester Warriors.

David Williams is the defense coach, and he’s got a long history of coaching the Eagles, though usually as a skills and strength and conditioning coach. Shawn Pittman is the set piece coach. Injuries forced him into retirement from playing at the age of 26, though he accrued 30 caps for the USA and logged significant time overseas with the London Welsh. He’s since worked with Atavus and served as an assistant coach at the age-grade level. Greg McWilliams is another Atavus product. The Irishman is also the head coach of Yale, and he was an assistant coach for Ireland’s women’s national team.

The lone new cap potentially on offer would be for Josh Whippy, the Fijian-born All-American from BYU.  Whippy, along with brother Jared, was recruited to BYU from his high school in New Zealand. Josh is listed as a wing, but he’s capable of playing anywhere in the backline. He could realistically slot in at center or fullback, too. He is athletic, but he’s not a burner. What he lacks in out-and-out speed he makes up for with exceptional guile and skill. He could be a difference maker early on in his international career.

Given both Germany and Georgia count as full rankings tests, it would be unwise for the Eagles to do anything other than play their best team in each encounter. What constitutes the best 15 is open for interpretation, but below is who I’d start. What I like about this particular group is the exceptional size on offer. The front row would be very large and tough to contend with. But the height throughout the rest of the pack is world-class.

Cam Dolan (6-6), Samu Manoa (6-6), Greg Peterson (6-8) and Nick Civetta (6-8) have never been in a match-day 23 together. If they find themselves on the field together, it gives the Eagles some serious tall timber. That would obviously help the lineout and offload game, but these guys aren’t just beanpoles.

Civetta is currently in the Aviva Premiership, Peterson the Pro 12 and Manoa the Top 14. Dolan, though he’s not in a professional setup at the moment, spent years with Cardiff. So all are legitimate, proven professionals. And Manoa and Dolan are incredibly fleet footed for men their size. Then you have Ben Landry (6-5), Nate Brakeley (6-5) and David Tameilau (6-4) coming off the bench.

It’s no surprise that Hodges (6-4) had his hands on this team. When the 58-cap flanker was patrolling the back row for the Eagles alongside Dan Lyle (6-5), physicality and athletic size were the USA’s hallmarks. They could be again with this group. 

1Eric FryPaddy Ryan
2Joe Taufete'ePeter Malcolm
3Olive KilifiDino Waldren
4Nick CivettaNate Brakeley
5Greg PetersonBen Landry
6Cam DolanHanco Germishuys
7Andrew DurutaloJohn Quill
8Samu ManoaDavid Tameilau
9Shaun DaviesNate Augspurger
10AJ MacGintyWill Magie
11Josh WhippyRyan Matyas
12Bryce Campbell
13Marcel Brache
14Blaine Scully
15JP EloffMike Te'o