So now that the U.S.A. camp roster has been released and the Eagles are beginning a new World Cup cycle, who has returned, who is new, and what does the depth chart look like for the team?
Prop: Mike MacDonald, Mate Moeakiola, Shawn Pittman, Eric Fry, Dave Ryan, Tim Paulson, Tolifili Liufau, and Ray Forrester.
Four of the six World Cup props return in MacDonald, Moeakiola, Pittman, and Fry. Both Pittman and Fry were expected to return to the team considering that they are still very young and have played well overseas. Pittman in particular has been strong for his London Welsh team that is fighting for promotion. Mike MacDonald’s return isn’t too surprising despite his age. He has played really well for Leeds this last year and is still arguably the Eagles best prop. Moeakiola’s return is the real surprise. He has always been a strong runner but was on the wrong side of thirty at the last World Cup. However, until someone shows they can beat him out for the position, he’s here to stay.
Dave Ryan grew up in Ireland in the Munster system but qualifies for the Eagles through parentage. After seeing little action with Munster, the bruising player spent the last year in Italy. The U.S. scrum could certainly use some experience and big bodies, and Ryan might be the player the Eagles are looking for. Paulson has shown well for the Chicago Griffins and could also be another player to help the scrum. Forrester is still quite raw and was probably brought into camp to gain experience. Liufau is a convert from American football but brings a lot of prowess and could make an impact.
Hooker: Chris Biller, Derek Asburn, Andrew Cook, and James Hilterbrand.
Only Chris Biller returns from the World Cup team. Since that time, Biller has played for Bath and Northampton. This experience has only made him stronger and should give him the edge as a starter. Hilterbrand, who was born in the U.S., has played his rugby for Manly in the Shute Shield. From video he looks to be a strong runner and a great lineout taker. After the retirement of Phil Thiel, Hilterbrand could be the answer for hooker depth. Asburn spent most of the year playing in the back row for Oxford but has played hooker in the past and could get a look. Cook was most likely brought in for the experience, but with the lack of depth at hooker, he could earn his chance.
Lock: Brian Doyle, Kris Headlee, and Scott LaValla.
Of any position from last year’s World Cup squad, lock has taken the biggest hit. The two starting locks from that team have either retired (John van der Giessen) or switched to play American Football (Hayden Smith). Those losses are huge for the team. Lock was arguably the strongest position at the World Cup. Scott LaValla has played lock in the past but spent most of his time at Stade Francais playing in the back row. He is certainly talented but settling on a position for LaValla might be best and it may not be lock. Samu Manoa would usually be in this picture as well but injury will keep him out of this assembly. Brian Doyle has been consistently good at the club level and will get his shot at the national team, but he will have to prove himself. The same goes for Headless. Lock has the biggest question marks around it this camp, and it will be interesting to see who comes out of camp with the starting spots.
Back Row: Todd Clever, Lou Stanfill, Scott LaValla, Derek Asburn, Cam Dolan, Taylor Mokate, Andrew Durutalo, Tom Katzfey, and Hynie Leaaetoa
World Cup starters Clever and Stanfill return and will provide excellent experience. Who will play next to them is still a question, however. LaValla and Asburn can definitely play the position, but may be needed elsewhere. The two most intriguing players in the mix are Cam Dolan and Taylor Mokate. Both have proven to be young exciting players that are ready to make an impact on the team. Mokate made the move to New Zealand and by all indications seems to have done really well. Dolan has been steady as always for Life. Durutalo has been solid for the 7’s team and could be the latest player to make the jump. Katzfey has had time in camp previously, but with several players not returning, this could be his time to put his name forward. Leaaetoa is probably in camp for the experience.
Scrumhalf: Mike Petri, Mose Timoteo, and Shaun Davies.
The retirement of Tim Usasz means that this position is now solely Mike Petri’s. Petri has been an absolute stalwart for the team and will be the starter. Timoteo is an interesting choice. He has had a great career at San Francisco Golden Gate and now will get a chance to show if that translates to the international game. Shaun Davies likewise has had a great career at BYU, but he may be a choice for the future, not for the present. Absent from this list is Robbie Shaw, who had an up and down year with Leeds.
Flyhalf: Roland Suniula, Will Holder, Luke Hume, and Toby L’Estrange
After question marks surrounding the position last year, Roland Suniula came in and showed ownership of the position. He plays simply and works well with the team. He also gave up a 7’s contract to focus on the 15’s game. Toby L’Estrange qualifies for the Eagles through birth and spent most of his career in Australia only coming over to play for NYAC this spring. During that time, though, he has shown that he is fully capable of contributing. He can play all over the back line, but whether that can by flyhalf at the international position remains to be seen. Will Holder is a great kicker and an excellent flyhalf. However, how he fits into the picture considering his Army duty will remain to be seen. Hume is another option, but will have to show that he can play flyhalf on an international level.
Center: Paul Emerick, Andrew Suniula, Pate Tuilevuka, and Toby L’Estrange.
Since the last World Cup, starters Emerick and Suniula have gone over to England and gained more experience with Wasps and Pirates respectively. They began to show good chemistry last summer and should continue that this year. Tuilevuka has had a great year with Old Puget Sound Beach and could get a look, but an ankle injury might keep him from camp.
Wing: Taku Ngwenya, Chris Wyles, James Paterson, Colin Hawley, Toby L’Estrange, and Luke Hume
Wing might be the Eagles strongest position. Ngwenya, Wyles, and Paterson all have experience at the top levels of the game and should be penciled in as automatic starters. Hawley has come on strong for the 7’s team and will most likely be able to transfer that over to the 15’s team just like Ngwenya and Wyles have done. L’Estrange is probably as natural wing as Hume, and both challenge for a backup position.
So who makes the 28-man cut? It should be noted that Mike Tolkin does not necessarily have to chose his Summer Test Series roster from the 36-man camp. If a player like Samu Manoa were to become healthy, he may be included, especially considering the lack of depth at lock. One of the big aspects of this camp will almost certainly be gaining depth on the front row, and with that in mind, Tolkin will most likely try out a combination of props. But by and large, this is the player pool for the summer, so let’s take a look at who might make the team. (My guess is that Tolkin takes 15 forwards and 13 backs)
Forwards (15): MacDonald, Pittman, Ryan, Fry, Biller, Hilterbrand, Asburn, Clever, Doyle, Stanfill, LaValla, Dolan, Mokate, Paulson, and Moeakiola.
In the end, the college players on the list miss out, as do Durutalo and Liufau. Gaining experience is the key of this camp and if the players that don’t make it continue to work hard, they can push their way into the side, but as of now, the players on the list represent those in the best form with the best experience at the moment.
Backs (13): Petri, Timoteo, R. Suniula, Holder, L’Estrange, Emerick, A. Suniula, Ngwenya, Wyles, Paterson, Hawley, and Hume.
This list is pretty straightforward with only Davies missing out.
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