Saturday, April 26, 2014

What Will The Eagles Do For The Final Leg of The iRB Sevens Series?

The USA Men have some big choices to make as they go into final preparations for Glasgow 7s May 3rd and 4th and London 7s the following weekend in regards to roster selections. It's a decision coaches often have to make when the overall impact of wins and losses isn't important..... are we playing to win NOW or playing to win next season? Are we rebuilding and recruiting or are we ending on a high note?

At the national team level, on the iRB circuit, I believe we should always be playing to win every match with the best squad possible.

This next season in particular the stakes are higher as next season's iRB series factors into Olympic qualifying and we need our best team come the North American 7s Qualifiers. If I had my pick, I'd stick with the same roster as in Asia. Yes, we could develop more players and give them tournament experience. But in a recent UR7s article Fiji's coach Ben Ryan pointed out that you build a successful team/program with only about 20 rostered players over the course of the sevens series. The USA has experimented plenty enough this year, firstly with a new coach who himself played on the first tour stops. We also tested bringing back names like Miles Craigwell for a a few tournaments, then changed/expanded the OTC invites and structure. Ending with consistency would serve our program well. I don't see a benefit to bringing Carlin Isles or Folau Niua back in at this moment without them spending significant time training and preparing with the team.

Further we could take a page from Canada's women's binder and send our developing players, Falcons squard, to international tournaments like Fiji's Marist 7s, Australia's Central Coast 7s, the NACRA championships, Canada's Stampede 7s and Victoria 7s, and other invitationals. Tiger Rugby can send teams to Shanghai and Melrose, so why not figure the means to send our USA 'B' squad?

We also do have the chance to "show" our ODA players at the All Star City 7s this June and World Club 7s later in summer. We get to see more college talent at the CRC championships the last weekend of May, and the various elite camps and academies will yield more talent I'd expect to see at Servei RugbyTown 7s in August. Don't forget we also have the 7s club national championships as well. It will be interesting to see how many of the OTC contracted players populate club rosters this summer, just as some big names have recently made appearances in the Pacific Rugby Premiership.

Basically we can give the "other" guys a chance - let's just do it in minor tournaments like the LVI where they can prove their worth. It certainly worked for Garrett Bender, Madison Hughes, Marcus Satavu and Mike Te'o as they emerged from the Falcons squad to become Eagles.

I'd rather see the team that centered around Zach Test, Danny Barrett, Brett Thompson and Nick Edwards in Asia continue to develop together over another series. Fortunes turn quickly as we've seen with Samoa's recent woes, with Canada's ascendance, and with Japan emergence on the 7s scene. Here the men have a chance to continue their growth, to definitively make the Cup rounds and beat Scotland, and to secure higher standing in the series.

Here is Curtis Reed of This is American Rugby's take on the situation:

Thursday, April 24, 2014
Tough Selection Decisions Ahead For Eagles 7s 

Eagles 7s head coach Matt Hawkins might have been forced to make certain selections heading into Glasgow and London had the team not done well in Japan and Hong Kong. But because they made the Cup round on both occasions they are safe from relegation and can begin to work for next season. That doesn't mean that Hawkins will take an experimental side to the UK but odds are high we are going to see some changes on the roster.

How Hawkins selects his team could come down to whether or not he brings in players that aren't in camp but have played for the team this season. The first name that comes to mind is Madison Hughes. Since joining the team during his sabbatical from Dartmouth he has made himself an integral part of the squad. A lot of the positive things the U.S. did in Asia were a direct result of Hughes. Now that he's back at Dartmouth it's highly unlikely he'll be available for two weeks. We'll never say never but it would be a surprise.

Two other names in a similar situation are Folau Niua and Carlin Isles. Since signing with the Warriors both Niua and Isles have mostly been used in 7s duty. Niua has had a few appearances on the the bench but not of late. If Hughes can't go it would make sense to call in Niua. Hughes filled in as the team's main playmaker, a role Niua had most of the season. Niua is in Glasgow and can spend time with the team. He makes sense.

The same goes for Carlin Isles. He was made available for the U.S. trip to Asia but Hawkins elected not to bring him. That's understandable given that Isles was away from the team in the lead-up to Hong Kong and Japan and the U.S. needed to be on the same page to get results. Now the pressure is off and it would make sense to bring Isles back into the fold. The worst thing that could happen would be for Isles to lose consistent contact with the U.S. national teams.

One last question facing Hawkins is how much youth should he bring in. For example, Mike Palefau traveled to Asia and did well but it's hard to argue that he is a central part of the team going forward. Right now the U.S. has nearly two dozen athletes at the Olympic Training Center. This is the best opportunity to bring some of those players in and test them out against international competition. It's also a great opportunity bring in players that have shown well with the one of the ODAs.

There are trade-offs to going with youth. The U.S. only just picked up momentum and it would be a shame to lose that heading into in the summer. Two more poor tournaments would mean that the Asia trip is an anomaly and not the new norm. That said, the U.S. is going to need these younger players to step up and some point and given how the season has gone already they don't have much to lose.

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