by Curtis Reed
Todd Clever is easily the most recognizable American rugby player. He is well known all around the world for his hard tackles, captaincy of the Eagles, and distinctive hair. Because of his great play and leadership on and off the field, Clever has had many opportunities to play rugby around the world. For example, Clever just recently played with the Asia-Pacific Barbarians at the Hong Kong Tens. This came on the heels of two years playing in Japan with Suntory Sungoliath where he won a Top League Championship (runner-up once) and two All-Japan Rugby Championships. Now that his contract is up with Suntory and Clever is ready to move on, the question becomes, where will Clever play? Let’s take a look at some possibilities:
Playing Super Rugby is an attractive option for any player, especially one of Clever’s quality. Clever previously played 21 matches with the Lions in Super Rugby and showed himself well (this came on the heels of playing for the Golden Lions in the Currie Cup). Super Rugby franchises would certainly be interested, but are there enough open foreign spots for Clever to break through? His tenacity for the Lions in the Currie Cup certainly earned him one of the spots before (he was the first American to play Super Rugby), but with the influx of Argentineans seemingly set to arrive, it could squeeze him out of the picture. Another factor is the timing of the season. With Super Rugby already underway, Clever would have to wait until next year.
One option is to join a domestic team in either New Zealand or South Africa and earn a spot onto a Super Rugby franchise. Clever already has experience in both he Currie Cup and the ITM Cup (he first played overseas with North Harbour), but the question is whether these competitions would provide Clever with the challenge he needs. That is not to say that these competitions aren’t extremely competitive (they obviously are), but their seasons are relatively short, and without the guarantee of Super Rugby, it could be hard for Clever to commit.
For all of his time overseas, Clever has never played in Europe, and with the success of players like Chris Wyles and Samu Manoa, the door could finally be open to make a move. Clever could certainly excel in England and instantly start for most teams, but again, the question is foreign spots. Besides Chris Biller, all other Americans playing in the Premiership have citizenship of another nations. Chris Wyles (English), Hayden Smith (Australian), Samu Monoa (Tongan), and Paul Emerick (Italian) have all found a way around those restrictions. Clever would certainly bring a strong element to any team in England, but are teams willing to use a foreign spot on him?
The Top 14 is more free spending and more lax with foreign restrictions than the Premiership and could be a great option for Clever. In a recent interview, Clever even hinted that he had some offers in France. A move to the Top 14 could be the best option available for Clever. The talent level is high and constantly improving. Teams play plenty of matches and would be involved in European Cup competitions so he would be plenty busy. Also, the relative proximity to the East Coast of the U.S. could be more attractive for returning to the U.S. for national team matches and assemblies. The only trouble with a move to France may be the pecking order of some French teams. One of the reasons Clever left Suntory was because the team had brought in other foreigners who played his position. While not guaranteed to happen in France, it is certainly possible that a team could just be out to sign as many people as possible. Still, the opportunity to play in the best league in Europe would be hard to pass up.
Another option for Clever is staying in Japan and playing for a different team. In the same interview when he mentioned offers form France, Clever also mentioned he had offers to stay in Japan. This move could be the most simple for Clever. He has adjusted to the culture and the language, as well as the playing style. The Top League is on the rise with players like Ma’a Nonu and Jerome Kaino either playing or soon to be playing there. With the quality on the rise, Clever will certainly be challenged, but after seeing so much success for the best team in Japan, will he want to play for another team? Also, the short season could be a problem. When originally moving to Japan, Clever mentioned that a large part of his decision was to rest his body and to make sure he was ready for the World Cup. Now that the World Cup is over, Clever may be looking for a bigger challenge.
Return to the U.S.
A return to the U.S. at this point in Clever’s career may not be the wisest move, but it is certainly an option. After so many years abroad, Clever may feel the need to come home to his house in San Diego. The biggest problem is obviously the money and the competitions. Clever would be an automatic choice for the 7’s team, but even if he was given a contract, it would not be comparable to what he makes overseas. Further, even if the rumored pro competition in the U.S. comes to fruition, it may be years away. So even thought it is technically an option, U.S. fans shouldn’t get their hopes up for a return anytime soon.
What will it be?
With a lot of options on the table, Clever should take the best opportunity for stability until the next World Cup. While Super Rugby offers the excitement and familiarity that would be a benefit, Clever is probably best suited going to France. There he could play top quality rugby while staying close to the U.S. The money wouldn’t be bad either. Still, no matter where he chooses, there is no doubt that the legend of Todd Clever will continue to grow.
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