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Rugby Today has confirmed that USA Rugby struck a deal with the Aviva Premiership which will see the availability of several Eagles for three November rankings tests traded for their availability in the Nov. 1st match with the All Blacks. The New Zealand game falls outside the designated November test window, during which clubs have to make their players available for international call-ups, per the International Rugby Board’s Regulation 9.
Several top-line Eagles play professionally in the Premiership, including Cam Dolan (Northampton), Eric Fry (Newcastle), Hayden Smith (Saracens), Chris Wyles (Saracens), Samu Manoa (Northampton) and Blaine Scully (Leicester). In order to make them available for the All Blacks contest, which is expected to sell out and be a commercial win, but most likely an on-field loss, USA Rugby CEO Nigel Melville negotiated an agreement that will see them unavailable for the Nov. 8 match with Romania, Nov. 15 meeting with Tonga and Nov. 22 Fiji game.
The deal was made without the consultation or consent of Eagles head coach Mike Tolkin, his coaching staff or the players in question. It was also made without the OK from the IRB, which is said to be upset with the deal, as it goes against the spirit of Regulation 9 – in place to protect players’ ability to play for their countries in designated competitions and times of the year, as well as the profitablity of international rugby.
Rugby Today contacted Nigel Melville for this story, but he declined to comment. It’s possible the IRB could intervene and force the availability of the USA’s Premiership players for the November tests, but some close to the situation aren’t optimistic it will.
With the All Black game expected to draw a crowd that could triple the current record for a domestic test match, a coveted time slot on network television, and a great opportunity for media exposure, it’s easy to speculate why USA Rugby was desperate to put its best foot forward for the game.
However, the loss of a quarter of the Eagles’ potential starting lineup for three full rankings tests is a stiff price to pay. With only a finite amount of games and less than 12 months to prepare for the World Cup, the Eagles need as much assembly time as they can get with their full team.