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The Warmup Balancing Act for 7s Eagles

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The Warmup Balancing Act for 7s Eagles

Perry Baker returns for AF 7s Mike Lee KLC fotos for World Rugby.

Mike Friday has a tough job to do right now. 

The USA Men's 7s Head Coach is looking down the short runway through the 2019-2020 World Series season that ends with the 2020 Olympics. If Friday wants his team on the podium—a place they are certainly capable of landing—it has to be firing on all cylinders, and it has to be healthy.

That first thing requires the players to get back on the field together as a unit. He needs every piece working together.

That second thing means he can't over-work those players and have them injured or just broken down once next summer rolls around.

Add to that mix a third factor—Friday has been hard at work grooming the next generation of players. He knows that no player will be around forever, so he needs to be thinking about replacements should the worst happen and a key starter gets injured. 

So in the next few days Friday is addressing all of these issues. The AF 7s in England is a nice warmup tournament that will allow Friday to address all three issues, because he can mix up his squad a bit. With the Rugby X tournament coming later (5-on-5 indoors ... jury's out about whether this will be worth watching), Friday can through a number of combinations out there, but also field close to his best seven at times.

He's taking 18 players to the UK: 1 - Carlin Isles; 2 - Matai Leuta; 3 - Danny Barrett; 4 - Pat Blair; 5 - Maceo Brown; 6 - Maka Unufe; 7 - Cody Melphy; 8 - Harley Wheeler; 9 - Stephen Tomasin; 10 - Naima Fualaau; 11 - Perry Baker; 12 - Joe Schroeder; 13 - Kevon Williams; 15 - Will Holder; 17 - Marcus Tupuola; 18- Ben Broselle 

No Madison Hughes (rested). No Ben Pinkelman (rested post Rugby World Cup), no Martin Iosefo (same as Pinkelman). No Folau Niua (rested). But Isles, Baker, Barrett, Tomasin, and Williams represent some very experienced players. Tomasin will likely captain this group, with Melphy and Blair in leadership roles also.

But it's not a group of newbies after that. Joe Schroeder is clearly being groomed by Friday and Pinkelman part deux. He has so many similarities as an athlete. Tupuola, Williams, and Brown all had sort of breakout years last year. For Williams, well his breakout was that he's a regular now. For Brown, his biggest jump forward is ahead of him. Last season was good, but expect this year to be even better as he earns more playing time.

So many of these players have a ton of pace—maybe not Isles/Baker pace, but enough.

It's worth, however, focusing on three players who have something to prove:

Maka Unufe

Back from a PED ban, Unufe is a quiet, unassuming athlete who has a very nice combination of speed, elusiveness, and ability in the air. He was, at one point, the USA's go-to man on the wing. They've got other guys for that so now he's in the middle. Chastened, he has to prove he can still do the job, and it's likely the job will be all over the positional map.

Harley Wheeler

Some observers didn't care for his play at the Pan-Am Games. Well, here at Goff Rugby Report we like what he brings to the table. He's a very good passer. He finds moments to be useful. And he's unique. The USA team has guys who mix it up physically, and they have some outside backs, but Wheeler is a small-ish outside back who mixes it up physically. He's emotionnal, and we mean that in a good way, he's intense, and he's like a pocket Barrett.

Naima Fualaau

With Niua on the sidelines, there are some opportunities for Fualaau to shine. He is a special combination of abilities, bringing a much more Samoan aproach to his sevens. That is, he's not big, he a stepper, and a skill guys, but he loves to hit and as no problem trucking the ball up into contact. Watch him bounce around the field and you'll see he's just itching to get involved.

Now he will be asked to control the game—with a little help from some more experienced players.