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Todd Clever Speaks on Eagle Ouster

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Todd Clever Speaks on Eagle Ouster

David Barpal photo.

Former USA captain Todd Clever has finally gone public with his side of the story surrounding his dismissal from the USA National Team, which led to him missing the Rugby World Cup.

After posting a statement about the event leading up to his dismissal, Clever sat down with Goff Rugby Report to discuss it further. In the interview that follows, one of the items of note is that Clever was likely going to retire from international and professional rugby following the Rugby World Cup, but that the events of this summer and fall have led him to change his mind:


Alex Goff: Was there something in the air between you and Mike Tolkin before this year?

Todd Clever: Ever since November there was some tension. With our review of the November tour our conversations got a little bit heated. In one of the conversations after that [Mike Tolkin] told me that he didn’t want me to be the captain going further. 

I said to him, 'if that’s what you think is best for the team, I’m for that. It doesn’t affect anything on my end.' He said he saw me going forward with the team.


AG: Were you personally invested in being the captain?

TC: Well it was such an honor to captain the team. I loved every minute of it. But when I received the captaincy I thought I was the furthest guy to be the captain. I am so different from the captains before me. I am not the voice and I never wanted to be. But it was Scott Johnson who appointed me and he said ‘I don’t want you to speak more. Lead with your actions.’ So that’s how I continued - not necessarily having all the words, but doing the hard yards.

I was the first one to say, if [changing the captain] is the best for the team then I am on board with it.


AG: But there were issues between you and Mike Tolkin.

TC: Yes, we had tension. We had an issue of him turning it more of a his way or the highway, not treating us like adults. There were some personal things he came at me with.


AG: You and I were doing an interview the day before the ESPYs for the Rugby World Cup Program and there seemed to be no issues. A couple of days later, it all changed. You went to the ESPYs with Scott LaValla on a day off during the team’s assembly. How did it all fall apart after that?

TC: The Body Issue [ESPN The Magazine’s special edition] came out on the Friday, and we arrived on Sunday, and we got the weekly schedule, and Wednesday was completely off. And I was getting emails and calls from ESPN - ‘can we put you down that you are coming?’ I told them ‘I don’t think I’m going to come; if I do it will be very last-minute, so don’t mark me down.’ 

Once I got the team schedule, and Wednesday was off, I had a one-on-one with Tolkin and [told him about the ESPYs] and asked if it’s OK if I go. He said: ‘Yeah, as long as you’re back and ready to train on Thursday, you’re good to go.’

I [booked] a flight back Thursday morning, and when we got there that morning, they’d changed the schedule while Scott and I were gone. Originally it was a 9:30 meeting and then we go to training. They changed the schedule on Wednesday afternoon and Scott and I didn’t get that email until after the ESPYs, and we felt helpless. There was nothing we could do.

We went to the meeting and training and then in the afternoon they called us in and gave us the disciplinary actions.

Scott was going to start on Saturday and I was going to be on the bench, so they moved us one level down and Scott was on the bench and I didn’t suit up.




AG: Did you think it was fair?

TC: I think it was completely unfair. They changed the schedule and I was back when I said we would be. He just told me that the schedules were subject to change. They put a 6:30 gym session in that Thursday morning, and he knew I wasn’t going to be able to make it. Throughout the whole rest of the PNC they never had an early-morning gym session except for that one. 


AG: But then you missed another session.

TC: They had the jersey presentation and I didn’t get a jersey. And they have a thing with the guys who don’t suit up. You have to go out for drinks with the coaches. And then Saturday morning the non-23s - six players - go for a jog. 

I slept in and did my own thing. I take blame for that and I feel bad for that. I hit snooze and then did my own thing. That was poor on my side. But it wasn’t something involving the whole team.


AG: At that point did you see how serious it would get?

TC: Not really. Saturday I went to the game and supported the guys, doing water and setting up the locker room. And then Sunday morning they called me in - Tristan Lewis, Dave Williams, and Mike Tolkin - and said 'you’re being sent home.'

I was devastated and pretty furious at how they were handling it. Here it is, bye, Tristan gives me $20 for a cab to the airport and ‘see ya.’ I couldn’t believe how they handled it.

I was thinking they changed the schedule and no call or text. I had a lot of emotions going through and I was very bitter at that time.


AG: So at this point you could say “screw it, I’m going to go surfing,” or did you think you wanted to work your way back?

TC: My folks are in San Jose so I stayed with them. I spoke with some of the senior players and spoke with Mike Tolkin and asked if I could drive up to Sacramento to meet up with him for a coffee to find out whether we can squash whatever beef there is and if he can see me with the team later, and he wouldn’t see me.

But I never gave up hope. I was always ready. I kept communication with Tolkin and in email communication with Dave Williams. I asked for conditioning programs. I wanted to be fit in case my name is called.

I told Tolks ‘I definitely don’t want to go out like this’ and he said ‘it’s not up to you anymore.’

I knew there was a small chance that it might happen, so I was training full-time. I was updating both Dave Williams and Mike Tolkin with my scores and workouts and how I was still hungry and still wanted this.


AG: Scott LaValla got hurt, and many thought that was the opportunity for Mike Tolkin to call you in. Did you expect that?

TC: There wasn’t too much time from when I heard he was injured to knowing he was replaced for me to think about it.


AG: But were you disappointed you weren’t called?

TC: Extremely. It confirmed to me that it was a personal thing.


AG: Can you look back at one instance where things changed?

TC: I can’t. I think about it and can’t think of a single time when it went south. I asked him; where did we go wrong? We’ve known each other for a long time. I still have that question. I don’t know.


AG: At some point you have to accept you’re not going to be on the Eagles, and I guess it was good timing that the Barbarians called. How did that come about?

TC: So the Barbarians contacted me because they heard I wasn’t in the World Cup squad and thought I could join them and play Samoa. I said ‘that sounds amazing’ but I haven’t gotten a definitive answer from Mike Tolkin.’ I am still hanging on to … nothing … at this point. There wasn't anything more important for me than playing for the Eagles. I put the Barbarians off and put them off, and finally I know the Eagles weren’t going to happen, and I told Tolkin I had these opportunities. He said, maybe that’s good. So I played with San Diego in that 7s tournament in Philly on the first day and then flew out to play with the Barbarians on the second week.


AG: Once you got there, you had to be thinking that it was an opportunity for clubs to see you.

TC: Absolutely. I was fit, and I was hungry and I wanted to play rugby. It was a dream callup and joining the Barbarians was an experience like no other. It was one of the best weeks I’ve ever had. Some amazing players and amazing guys, and playing rugby for all the right reasons.

I was able to forget about all the negative stuff and play some awesome rugby. It kept me sane. 

Once the Barbarians game finished I met with an agent there and he asked what my plans were. I decided not to get a flight back. I traveled around and ended up in Portugal on the beach and waiting to hear the offers. By the end of the week there were a few offers on the table.


AG: And you signed with Newcastle. That meant that you were in England during the World Cup. Did you go to the games?

TC: No. I wanted to go to the Scotland game but training conflicted. Once I got here I was gung-ho on playing for Newcastle. But I watched those games all live. I watched them all by myself. I didn’t want anyone else around me. It was really hard, and listening to the commentary and hearing my name a few times and them not knowing the story and just going off what they heard from the USA camp and the USA Rugby media - it was tough to hear. After the games, people are asking ‘what happened?’ 

I want to be known as a great teammate and a committed guy and a player always for the team. What they were saying about me missing multiple team meetings and things like that weren’t true. I will admit to what I missed, but I also want to clear my name.


AG: How has this experience changed you?

TC: A year ago, I thought my last high performance rugby game was going to be at the World Cup. It was where I wanted to be with family and with lifestyle. I was thinking about surfing and kick back. I was thinking maybe I pick up a half season, but that’s it. After this year there wasn’t any high level rugby on my plate.

So this was the biggest change. I didn’t have to leave Japan. I had offers in Japan and a few offers in Europe. And I moved to Southern California and went over the offers with Tolkin. my decision to move back to the USA wasn’t financially driven. The idea was to come back to OMBAC, be fresh, be fit, be ready for the PNC, and manage the amount of games. For the World Cup, this was how the team would get the best out of me.

But now I’ve changed it, because I don’t want it to end like that. USA Rugby and the Eagles dragged my name through the mud. I want to clear that up. I asked Nigel Melville to clear it up for me and have an investigation - I have all the emails and times - and it was not done.

I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to be any more of a distraction during the World Cup. But I wanted to say that the idea that I was missing trainings and team meetings and multiple sessions wasn’t true.

[Newcastle Director of Rugby] Dean Richards asked me, 'tell me the story, do I have something to worry about?' Those are legitimate questions. I told him the story and he said ‘I have no problem.’

I do care what people think. I’ve given 12 years plus for the national team and I’ve given it all for the jersey.