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Certainly Roland Suniula, Shalom Suniula and Colin Hawley come in with some experience, but that’s less true of Peter Tiberio, while Rocco Mauer, Folau Niua and Maka Unufe are new to the team and international 7s competition.
Mile Pulu isn’t new, but he’s been gone for a while.
How will it all work together? The key, first of all, is at the halfback pairing. Shalom Suniula, who can play flyhalf, will slot back to scrumhalf, while Niua will become the most regular first receiver.
“Time is never on our side, so it’s good to put players in the situations where they’re most comfortable,” said Suniula, who captains the Eagles in Guadalajara. “I am more comfortable throwing into the lineout, and at scrum time I know how Testy [Zack Test] likes the ball put in. So it makes sense. Folau is really talented and we’re working well together.”
Niua can kick off either foot with equal ability, and Suniula said he was extremely impressed with the SFGG star’s kicking ability. The two will likely share the kicking during the tournament.
“I have been working on my kicking,” he said. “Last year it was a bit of a shock when Nese [Malifa] was injured. I stepped into that role, but I only had a 42 percent success rate. This off-season I’ve gotten my head around it and it’s going to be better.”
Out at center the Eagles have plenty of options. Roland Suniula can be a flyhalf, but is an effective line-breaker with a shifty sidestep. Or you could go more power and straight pace with Mile Pulu.
“When he first came on the team Mile was really quiet, but now he talks a lot,” said Suniula. “He’s getting that communication down, and it just comes with time playing.”
Hawley is the everyman. He can play virtually any position on a 7s team, and that’s a valuable ability when you’re limited to three subs in a game. Out wide is where the questions come. Maka Unufe, Peter Tiberio and Rocco Mauer are the hoped-for danger men. All have had different paths to this team.
Tiberio was a star in the making for Arizona, helping the SoCal collegiate all-star team win the national title in 2009. But injuries slowed him until he returned with a vengeance last season. An excellent 15s player, his future seems to be in 7s, and after Pacific Coast all-star coach John Tyler took him to Fiji, he seemed to blossom as a 7s player. He’s already made the USA 7s team, but this is his chance to take charge.
Mauer was a try-scoring threat at Bowling Green, but not thought of much anywhere else, until he scored 11 tries in the 2010 USA 7s CRC. After an outstanding summer playing 7s for the Chicago Lions, he seemed destined to make the USA team, but injury sidelined him for much of last season. Back healthy, he once again brings speed and a defensive work ethic to the Eagles.
Unufe was hardly known at all until he scored two tries in the final of the U19 National Championship – in a game his team lost. His skills, though, were indisputable. He can run, put on moves, and is strong, and he showed that playing for the Utah Warriors during the summer.
Forward Mark Bokhoven said the entire team knows what kind of pace and skill the team has out wide.
“We have playmakers and speedsters,” he told RUGBYMag.com. “We do have a lot of speed, and if you give them 10 to 15 meters of space on the outside they can do something special. We know that if we run too sideways we can neutralize that, so we have to give them space. The guys who challenge the gain line, we have to run straight, freeze that defense, make them sit down, and stop the slide. Everyone plays a slide defense, so we have to straighten them up and then get the ball to those guys out wide.”