For the first time in a long time, the Eagles head into the summer months without a major trophy to play for. However, the drive for trophies and World Cup qualification begin now as the head coach, Mike Tolkin, will look to use the summer to shape the nucleus of his team going forward. With that in mind, here are some questions to follow this summer:
Can Taku Ngwenya replicate his club form for the Eagles? There is little doubt that Taku Ngwenya may be the most recognizable and successful American rugby player. Ever since his breakout try against South Africa in the 2007 World Cup, Ngwenya has turned in one fantastic season after another for his club team, Biarritz. During that time, he has turned himself into one of the deadliest try-scorers in the game and a sought after commodity. However, he has yet to turn that form into consistent performances for the Eagles. Granted that is not completely his fault—when you don’t get the ball, you can’t score. Last summer, Ngwenya was one of the more active players who at times seemed frustrated that his teammates didn’t “get it.” If Ngwenya is going to have a breakout summer for the Eagles, this is the year. He is surrounded now by more experienced players, and the team should have opportunities to score.
How many games will the Eagles win? As was stated before, this summer is more about discovering what kind of team Mike Tolkin has to work with going forward, but getting results against Canada, Georgia, and Italy would go a long way to helping that goal. Last summer the Eagles struggled with Canada, as they have in recent years. The Canadians are able to match the Eagles size-wise, but have also seemed to have the execution the U.S. lacks. Some of that execution comes from having more players overseas than the U.S., but much of it comes from the time the team is able to spend together at the national training facility in Victoria. Still, the Eagles have beaten Canada in the past and could do so again. They certainly have the talent, but whether they can do it is the big question. The U.S. has beaten Georgia before and is expected to do so again. Against Italy, the Eagles will only have revenge on their minds. If the U.S. is ever going to be in the top echelon of Tier II teams, they are going to have to be competitive against teams like Italy.
Who will play flyhalf? Last summer Roland Suniula took over the flyhalf position after then head coach Eddie O’Sullivan lost confidence in Nese Malifa. Suniula performed well in the role, but is probably not a natural flyhalf. To give Suniula competition for the position, Tolkin has brought in Toby L’Estrange and Will Holder. L’Estrange has experience playing for Sydney University and NYAC. While he could fit in at flyhalf, L’Estrange has hardly played the position for either Sydney or NYAC, but has rather been used either at center or back. Holder is a college standout from Army who is arguably the best kicker in the college game. He is still raw and is probably a project for the future. So with these options in camp, Tolkin could have a hard time finding his flyhalf and may have to turn elsewhere.
How do young players with overseas experience affect the team? Taylor Mokate, Eric Fry, and Derek Asburn are three young players in camp that took their game overseas in order to gain experience. While they may not have been playing in the Premiership, Super Rugby, or the Top 14, they have gained valuable experience playing in New Zealand (Fry and Mokate) and England (Asburn, who played with Oxford). Whether this experience will translate into international play is the big question. Going overseas is great for learning new techniques and training at a higher level, but doesn’t necessarily make these players better than they would have been if they stayed in America. Still, for these three in particular, they could form the nucleus of the Eagles going forward.
Will the absence of Samu Manoa matter, and will it be permanent? No player causes more frustration among American fans than Samu Manoa. He has played all over the pitch this season for Northampton after signing from SFGG and would have been a perfect replacement for the Eagles departed locks (John van der Giessen and Hayden Smith). However, Manoa will miss this summer with a combination of injury and a desire to spend time with his family. That news is certainly a disappointment for Eagles fans that wanted to see him in uniform, and some can legitimately question whether he wants to play international rugby.
Gilbert has released a new line of rugby cleats. The Gilbert Virtuo 8S is part of the exciting new product. Check it out.
The entire All Blacks apparel line has been updated for 2013/14. Check out the New Zealand All Blacks polo.
The Nike Tiempo is a solid rugby cleat and one of few styles still made from full-grain natural leather.
The Gilbert Blitz 8S rugby cleat is a great cleat at a great price of $69.99. Get a new pair of cleats today.
A cool looking all black rugby cleat with the high performance adidas is known for. Get in the Gear!
Wear the crest of the British and Irish Lions on your t-shirt. A great look for the summer.
The All Blacks Performance t-shirt is black with hints of blue from the training jersey. Very Cool.
The New Zealand All Blacks training jersey for 2013/14. Get in the Gear!
The USA Rugby Pro Alternate rugby jersey is perfect for any fan of the Eagles. Get yours to wear during the summer Test matches.
The NEW All Blacks 2013/14 jersey has arrived at World Rugby Shop. Dare to wear the colors of the All Blacks.