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Seven games stand between the Eagles and the World Cup. Rugby Canada made the long-rumored August friendly with the Eagles official this week. Add that to four Pacific Nations Cup matches and the Harlequins and Australia games, and you have a great lead-up to the big show.
Also announced this week was the Eagles’ 50-man training squad for the RWC. Putting that list together is somewhat a moot exercise, as it’s non-binding. Coach Mike Tolkin can still select someone for the RWC who isn’t on the 50-man roster. The 31-man traveling squad for England doesn’t have to be determined until after the Harlequins match at the end of August, though it will likely be trimmed before then, even if just behind closed doors.
Tolkin and his staff have already done some trimming to get to a 31-man roster for the PNC. That will be announced next week. Word is the Aviva Premiership Eagles will be available, which is great news. Their availability was in question for some time, as the official RWC window doesn’t open until August. Kudos to USA Rugby for getting the likes of Chris Wyles, Titi Lamositele and Thretton Palamo freed up for July.
Three of the PNC games are set in stone. The Eagles will play Samoa July 18 in San Jose, Japan July 24 in Sacramento and Tonga July 29 in Toronto. The setting is decided for the fourth game, Aug. 3 in Burnaby, B.C., but the opponent isn’t. A complex formula is being employed after the completion of the first three rounds to determine the final round match-ups.
Once the Pacific Nations Cup is over, Tolkin gains the flexibility to play whoever he wants whenever he wants. The 31-man PNC roster can't be changed unless forced to by injury, but the USA can pull anyone from anywhere for the Canada, Harlequins and Australia tilts. Tolkin will want to put something close to his best 15 on the field together at least a couple of times this summer, but the overarching goal is figuring out who that includes.
“Everything is going to be towards getting the best team ready for the World Cup,” Tolkin told Rugby Today.
“There are a number of guys, even overseas, who haven’t played a lot of rugby, so we have to start getting them game time, and I think that’s going to be a priority. And then we also have to make decisions on people, so we can only get the data by playing them, and then to see who’s the better choice. I think those factors come into account. We think with the group that we have we’ll be capable of putting anyone on the field and putting in a good performance.”
Between the PNC’s final round, Aug. 3, and the Canada friendly, Aug. 22, the Eagles will have a couple of weeks off. For those headed to England, this will be the last real chance to visit with friends and family until October. Other than a couple of days between the Australia match and the departure for the RWC, the Eagles won’t break assembly until elimination.
Just over 91 days until Fiji and England get the whole party started and 93 before the USA kicks off against Samoa in Brighton.