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Some Tough Picks Made for USA Men's Olympic Rugby Team

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Some Tough Picks Made for USA Men's Olympic Rugby Team

Mike Friday has had some tough decisions to make. David Barpal photo.

Picking the Men's Olympic 7s team wasn't an easy job and, as he said in a RuggaMatrix interview last month, Head Coach Mike Friday's toughest job has been to tell some very deserving athletes that they aren't on the team.

The toughest conversation may well have been with Brett Thompson. The former Tempe U19 player and University of Arizona football and rugby player, who has been capped at both 15s and 7s, is the traveling alternate. This means he travels with the team, trains with the team, but doesn't play unless there's an injury.

USA Names Men's 7s Olympic Squad

"Brett Thompson has the hardest job," said Friday. Not only am I proud of the players who have been selected. I had to pass on the news to the players who have been unsuccessful, and my heart goes out to them ... and the strength of character for all of those guys has been first-class. Brett has got the hardest job that I think there is in terms of dealing with the disappointment of not making the 12 but also showing the resilience and the strength to be ready for the group."

There were other players who didn't get the nod. Army men Cody Melphy and Pat Blair have unloaded a truckload of effort, but just fell short. It was little things, said Friday, that pushed the needle one way or another. These players we very very close. Marcus Tupuola also didn't get the nod, a decision Friday acknowledged was very difficult.

"They were all difficult conversations," said Friday. "Those conversations were very much man-to-man. The forwards in themselves was an insanely difficult decision. It was tough when I look at the halfbacks when we get the balance between our tempo playmakers and our link playmakers and our hybrids."

Friday picked Folau Niua, who is still coming back from a very bad leg injury. Niua, who has been one of the best players in the world, deserved to go based on his body of work, but he still needs to work hard to get back to 100% fitness. But Melphy missed out and was very close, said Friday. Close, but, in the end, not going to Tokyo.

As for Tupuola, his response epitomized the players' attitude.

Tupuola, said Friday, "is as mad as a box of frogs when it comes to operating and delivering on the pitch." This is, apparently, a compliment. More directly, the coach said: "Marcus, hugely positive, hugely supportive, and certainly will be man that will come again. But still [the news was] very very tough for him to take, but he did so in a very humble and fantastic way."

For some, this will just be the beginning. Non-traveling reserves Naima Fualaau and Malacchi Esdale are young players who will get another look. That's likely the case for Tupuola, as well. But the Army World Class Athlete Program doesn't fund players forever and Blair has already said that Olympic selection or no, he's off to do Army work now.

But Friday said he needed the right balance of squad, which means the right mix of fast guys and power guys and multi-position guys and playmakers. 

"You've only got to look at the quality of players that didn't make the team to know tough [the process} has been," added captain Madison Hughes. "Everyone we've had in the camp has been just working incredibly hard for a long time now and that's made it a really tough selection process."

But telling a player that it's over, and hearing that message, isn't easy.