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Battle for RWC Spot Begins

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Battle for RWC Spot Begins

Hayden Smith and Eric Fry should make the World Cup squad, but they have a long list of players trying to take their spots. David Barpal photo.

The 50 players named to the USA Men’s World Cup training squad will need to be pared down to 31 by the time the Eagles leave for England in September.

So 19 of those players will be disappointed to be left home. It could be more - you never know if Head Coach Mike Tolkin will find a late answer to a late selection question. The current roster of 50 isn’t an official thing - it’s not as if World Rugby locks a country into those 50 and no one else. So if you think you’ve been wrongly left out, keep working, you never know.

But now looking ahead, Tolkin and his coaches have seven games and a full summer in which to test and work these players. 


July 18 Samoa at USA (San Jose, Calif.)

July 24 Japan at USA (Sacramento, Calif.)

July 29 USA v Tonga (Toronto, Ont.)

August 3 PNC Finals (Toronto, Ont.)

August 22 USA at Canada (Ottawa, Ont.)

August 29 Harlequins at USA (Chester, Pa.)

September 5 Australia at USA (Chicago, Ill.)


Seven games, six of them rankings test matches, and non outside of North America. The Pacific Nations Cup (the first four fixtures) is a competition that the Eagles want to target to win, but it’s also, said Tolkin, “a series where we can build continuity and cohesion. We haven’t been together as a squad for over a year, save for the one game against New Zealand in November. So we can see who is showing good form, and we can get everyone together to build some cohesion.”

Tolkin does have plenty of opportunities to rotate in players, making sure no one is overworked. He also has some positions where there remain some questions - flyhalf, scrumhalf depth, and prop, to name a few. Tolkin said he is fairly positive about the front row, but with inures to Ben Tarr and Angus MacLellan, there are positions to fight for (it’s telling that Mike Shepherd, tracked as a hooker, is going to take reps as a prop, too). AJ MacGinty appears to have shown enough to lay something of a claim on the #10 jersey, but he is still relatively untested. And while Mike Petri is the #1 scrumhalf, Tolkin is still searching for the right combination of backups.

A quick look at the list of 50 reveals about 20 players who are essentially guaranteed to be on the final RWC foster of 31. That leaves 30 fighting for 11 places, but it’s not an even split among positions.

It looks as if there are five props fighting for three places. At hooker, three are fighting for one or two spots (someone who can play both prop and hooker can be valuable here). If you combine lock and loose forward, you’ve probably got ten players trying to claim one of two remaining spots.

At scrumhalf it’s a three-player fight for backup (with the knowledge that someone like Shalom Suniula could come in as a scrumhalf/flyhalf combo). Flyhalf could well end up being MacGinty and Toby L’Estrange, with Shalom Suniula in as both SH and FH - thus leaving no one behind.

At center, four players are fighting for one or, possible two, places. And at the deep three, Tolkin probably has all but one of his places decided, and four or five players pushing for that lone spot.

It promises to be an intriguing summer, then, thanks to a series of seven exciting games for the Eagles, but also because of the internal battles within the roster to get a plane ticket to England.