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Test Rugby a Huge Step Up for Debutants

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Test Rugby a Huge Step Up for Debutants

Sam Golla in training this week. Photo Calder Cahill for USA Rugby.

Nine players got their first USA Men’s 15s caps last weekend, and it’s always nice to combine a debut with a victory.

But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. While Chris Mattina has been on the world sevens circuit and Tomamso Boni has played 11 times for Italy, so they understand what it takes to play internationally, it’s a wakeup call for most.

We checked in with Sam Golla about that. Going from being captain East HS and then Cal and a Scholz Award finalist to a first-round pick for the Dallas Jackals and, this season, Rookie of the Year, you could say he has the most obvious pathway to the national team.

But that doesn’t mean it was easy.

“First off it’s tough to go straight into test rugby,” Golla told GRR. “That alone is two big jumps from professional rugby. Coming here with the Eagles, it’s a completely different game as far as like the speed, the intensity, the physicality.”

But, said Golla, not only playing in Major League Rugby but playing regularly helped him.

“MLR definitely got my body ready,” he said. “With conditioning, it’s a physical leap for sure and with the amount of minutes I played and a small amount of rest it helped but it’s a huge step up—it still is.”

Crispness was a term Golla used to talk about the need for supreme accuracy in everything you do as a test player. 

In an earlier article GRR discussed how the USA is improving in its continuity, and much of that has to do with decision-making for players supporting the ballcarrier. There is little time to dilly-dally and Golla said that is a huge part of test match rugby—defenders are on a tackled ballcarrier in a split second, and if the clearcut player is late, it’s a turnover or a penalty.

“I’ve been reviewing with the coaches and doing some extras as well especially seeing my body movement towards the breakdown,” said the flanker. “A lot of it is that speed to the breakdown as much as it is the ballcarrier. Both parts are important and the speed of that, how everything is just a little bit faster … that’s definitely something that’s been a step up for me. So for me it’s just adjusting and adapting.”

The August 5 new caps alongside captain Greg Peterson (Greg's the tall one who is the same guy in each picture). Photos Calder Cahill of USA Rugby.

New Cap Sam Golla New Cap Paddy Ryan New Cap Luke White
New Cap Nick McCarthy New Cap Tommaso Boni New Cap Jake Turnbull
New Cap Takaji Young Yen New Cap Thomas Tu'avao New Cap Chris Mattina