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And Head Coach Mike Tolkin might be at a crossroads in his thinking here.
Do the Eagles go with their longtime plan of using a big bruiser on the inside and a faster guy on the outside? The problem, it seems, has been that the big bruiser doesn’t explode through the line the way everyone expects.
Several, including this writer and others at RUGBYMag.com, called for a change in 2011, pushing for Paul Emerick to be inside center. Emerick is the most consistent line-breaker the USA has had in the last several years. Emerick was used there in a World Cup warmup match, and did extremely well, but conventional wisdom has been that a #12 has to be a passer, and supposedly Emerick is not a passer.
So? Just as Pate Tuilevuka was used in 2006 as a flyhalf, despite being 6-4 and 240, the Eagles might wish to use the resources they have at their disposal. Tuilevuka, despite his size, is not a steamroller, he’s a guy who finds gaps and offloads to support.
Emerick may not be a big passer, but he can make the gain line. And if the Eagle backs need to get the ball out wide quickly, well there’s this thing called a skip pass.
All of this is a preface to what could happen in the USA midfield.
Toby L’Estrange plays center, but he looks more like a flyhalf going forward. Roland Suniula is a flyhalf, but he’s a center, also. Tuilevuka can play both #12 and #13. Andrew Suniula is a straight up inside center. And then there’s Emerick, and the wild card, James Paterson.
Paterson is the one who partnered with Emerick against Japan (in a game
where many were screaming for Kevin Swiryn to get that start at outside
center). Can that be the goal now? It’s possible. Emerick is a guy who
breaks tackles (just see the try against Italy he started in the World Cup
… which ended in a pass to Chris Wyles, by the way). Paterson loves playing
13, and with the Eagles strong on the outside with Taku Ngwenya, Colin
Hawley, and Chris Wyles, then that could be the combination.
Does that leave the Suniula brothers and Tuilevuka on the outside looking in? No, it doesn’t. But they will have to not only find their role, they will need to use their specific skills to the best of their ability.
And don’t forget Luke Hume, the sidestepping fullback who could play almost anywhere.
Look for some new thinking in this position. Just because someone had the job last year doesn’t mean he has it now.