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That’s not to say last year’s team was slow, or this year’s is weak, but the loss of currently injured Matt Hawkins and Paul Emerick certainly removes two players who can handle contact out of the equation. The players who replaced those two are generally smaller and faster, so the current group of forwards, which includes Mark Bokhoven, Zack Test, Nu’u Punimata, and Blaine Scully, will have to step up.
“We each have our roles on the team,” said prop Mark Bokhoven. “We have playmakers and the speedsters and guys who are physical. I think myself, Nu’u , Testy, and Blaine are looking to break the gain line. If we’re able to do that and get the ball to the fast guys in space – they have straight jets. They can do something special.”
“Losing Matt and Paul we lose some big go-forward,” added Test, who steps in as vice-captain as well as (usually) hooker. “But Bok is back at full strength and Nu’u is looking great, and Blaine is a great addition. We’ve worked to play to our strengths.”
Test said the team has worked hard at drills designed to identify when is the best time to counter-ruck. The USA was one of the best teams on the 2010-2011 World Series circuit at maintaining possession and in the scrum. This Pan-Am tournament, they will have to live up to that reputation with a slightly different set of players.
“We’ve gotten more experience around the contact area,” said Test. “We were one of the best last year at holding onto the ball. We have to use that as a strength, and not make those 50-50 passes. If it’s not 100 percent on, you need to take the tackle and recycle. We’re prepared to take as long as we need to score.”