Rugby News & Views From an American Perspective
Article courtesy of USA Rugby with additional content by Ted Hardy
USA Eagles Captain Todd Clever is returning to 7’s as the Men’s National Sevens Team is set to assemble at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California for one week before they head to Hong Kong for the fifth leg of the HSBC Sevens World Series.
Team USA is coming off back-to-back Shield titles inWellington and Las Vegas and desperately need to improve their performance in the final four tournaments of the season. Injuries to key players have led Team USA head coach, Al Caravelli, to expand his player pool in order to find replacements.
Eagle veteran Mark Bokhoven is likely out for the remainder of the season and rookie Nu’u Punimata is unavailable due to injury. From a defensive standpoint, losing Punimata and Bokhoven hurts, but there is depth in the player pool and experience available to fill the gap.
Todd Clever recently finished up his professional season in Japan, winning the All-Japan Rugby Championship with Suntory, and he will surely be a welcome addition to the Eagles’ camp as he vies for a spot on traveling squad. Ata Malifa also returns from injury to try and reclaim a spot on the squad.
Taylor Mokate, a senior at the University of Oklahoma, got his first cap for the Eagles in February circuitously, being called up to the USA from the reserve player pool (available to any team in the tournament with injury problems). Mokate played well for the Eagles, something Caravelli is sure to have noticed.
There will also be some fresh faces at the camp, including one age-grade player, Jake Fallon, who Caravelli scouted at the Under-20s camp at Chula Vista last month. Fallon showed speed, endurance, and good skills but also showed professionalism, a trait Caravelli looks for on the national team.
Another camp newcomer, Lester Peni Salanoa, comes to camp from the Village Lions by way of Australia where he played both rugby union and rugby league.
“[Lester] is a big powerful forward that plays center in fifteens and can play in the backs or forwards in sevens,” said Caravelli.
With some learning experiences in Wellington and Las Vegas, Caravelli and his team are looking forward to camp.
“We learned some valuable lessons from the last two tournaments. The good thing is we are all on the same page and that is what has caused the excitement and energy for the next camp.”
Some skill work is on the docket for camp, particularly with passing, something that Caravelli deemed to be suspect in Las Vegas. Team chemistry will also be put to the test with the number of changes that are likely to be made to the lineup.
Players returning to camp that played in Las Vegas include Justin Boyd, Miles Craigwell, Paul Emerick, Tai Enosa, Matt Hawkins, Colin Hawley, Taylor Mokate, Roland Suniula, Shalom Suniula, and Zach Test.
With a number of backs returning to camp from the last two stops on the World Series, it appears that the competition for rosters spots will be in the forwards. That’s not to say that Caravelli won’t look to shake things up a bit. Team USA has underperformed for most of the season with primarily the same core lineup. Although risky, shaking up the lineup a little bit may be needed to get the team going.
USA EAGLE SEVENS CAMP ATTENDEES
James Aldridge (NYAC), Marco Barnard (Harlequins, Pretoria), Gerson Blaise (Metropolis), Justin Boyd (Frisco Griffins), Todd Clever (Suntory), Miles Craigwell (NYAC), Paul Emerick (At Large), Tai Enosa (Belmont Shore), Jake Fallon (University of Davenport), Matthew Hawkins (Belmont Shore), Colin Hawley (The Olympic Club), Ata Malifa (Glendale), Taylor Mokate (University of Oklahoma), Zach Pangelinan (Old Mission Bay Athletic Club), Don Pati (University of Utah), Lester Peni Salanoa (Village Lions), Roland Suniula (Boston RFC), Shalom Suniula (Pearl City), Zack Test (At Large), Peter Tiberio (University of Arizona), Kevin Wiggins (Kansas City Blues)