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Eagles Show Value, Get Value From November

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Eagles Show Value, Get Value From November

It’s easy to point out that the USA might have finished November 3-1 had they been able to call on all of their seasoned pros for the entire month.
 
Had they fielded a lesser lineup against New Zealand, they likely would have given up 100 points, and left 61,000 fans feeling cheated, but they would have beaten Fiji and would have likely beaten Tonga, as well.
 
But that wasn’t the deal, and being completely destroyed by the All Blacks would have been too damaging to accept. So Samu Manoa, Chris Wyles, Hayden Smith, Eric Fry, and Blaine Scully all missed the last three games. And that left a team of mostly amateurs and pros from lower-level leagues against Tonga and Fiji players who are almost all professionals. Even Romania has a pro league in their country. And the Eagles did well at times, winning one game, losing another that could have gone either way, and losing a second that was really all about seven very bad minutes.
 
What those games did, however, was provide full international match experience for a number of players. Sure they made mistakes, but they also succeeded in playing some very good rugby - good team defense, creating scoring opportunities, and battling through a test match environment.
 
When Mike Tolkin brings his squad together for real in 2015, he will have six players capped who weren’t capped before. He will have brought three players back into the Eagle fold after long absences (four if you count Thretton Palamo, which you should), and all of those played well.
 
He will know things he wouldn’t have known before. If the pros had played, would John Quill have been able to get all that playing time, in which he showed immense value as a defender and ball-stealer? Would Tim Stanfill or Taku Ngwenya have gotten much playing time at all? In their five starts between them they scored four tries. Would Ronald McLean been able to get any time? Against Fiji he showed himself to be a mutli-skilled back who can play several positions - he surprised me, for one.
 
Would we have had to rely so much on Mate Moeakiola, who demonstrated that he still has the ability and desire? 
 
Would we necessarily have seen Thretton Palamo play a full 80, in which he showed without a doubt that he can play? And would we necessarily have seen Seamus Kelly get so much time to work through issues and grow, and thus emerge, as he did, into a really good game against Fiji?
 
Things weren’t so smooth for John Cullen, Greg Peterson, or Matt Trouville, but playing lock or No. 8 in test rugby is, to quote the Ron Washington character in Moneyball, “incredibly hard.”
 
So now Tolkin knows some things. He knows that Taku Ngwenya is very happy to be back with the USA team and played well. He has discovered that Tim Stanfill can score tries and play defense at every level. He found out that a healthy Palamo has a combination of power and agility the Eagles need. He knows now that Quill gives him all sorts of options in the back row, Kelly will get there, and McLean provide flexibility as a center who can play fullback.
 
This kind of experience is invaluable for a largely amateur team. Despite the losses, the jolt of confidence they got by competing with some very good international teams despite missing almost an entire team will help in the future.
 
Was this USA’s B team? That’s a bit harsh, especially considering Todd Clever and Scott Lavalla were on the squad (PS, Clever played hurt and was terrific against Romania, while LaValla was the team’s best player against Fiji). But we could name 12 top pros who didn’t play against Fiji who could start for the Eagles: 1. Titi Lamositele, 2. -  3. Eric Fry 4. Tai Tuisamoa 5. Hayden Smith 6. Cam Dolan 7. Danny Barrett 8. Samu Manoa 9. - 10. Adam Siddall 11. Brett Thompson 12. - 13. Folau Niua 14. Blaine Scully 15. Chris Wyles.
 
You like that lineup? Many coaches would. None of those players were available against Fiji, and the USA came within one pass of beating them. When the Eagles get them back into camp, you might have some really intense competition for starting spots.


Notes:The USA remains thin at a couple of positions, namely hooker, scrumhalf, and flyhalf. Of those, flyhalf might have a big change coming as Life University's AJ MacGinty will become USA eligible on February 1, 2015. He is a very good flyhalf and goalkicker. Come 2015 expect to see a lot of competition for the #10 jersey.