From now until the Eagles begin their summer test series we will be bringing you a monthly installment of 30 Tickets, a look at who might be on the Eagles roster as things currently stand.
The Eagles summer series is now a little less than four months away. With play beginning on May 25th in a non-cap match against Canada and then continuing all the way though July and World Cup qualifiers, there is no guarantee that the same 30 players will be with the squad the whole time. What we are looking at in this exercise is who will be the core group of 30 that participate in the matches against Ireland, Tonga, Fiji, and Japan.
Go Ahead and Pack Your Bags: Todd Clever, Chris Wyles, Taku Ngwenya, Lou Stanfill, Scott LaValla, Eric Fry, Shawn Pittman, Chris Biller, Roland Suniula, John Quill, Brian Doyle, Toby L’Estrange, Robbie Shaw, and Mike Petri.
Over the last few years several players have made their lasting mark and have earned constant selection to the Eagles. Captain Todd Clever headlines that list followed by the likes of Chris Wyles, Taku Ngwenya, Lou Stanfill, and Scott LaValla. All of those players have been playing regularly overseas and should be ready to play this summer. LaValla in particular has shown great strides this season at Stade Francais. Stanfill has also benefitted by playing regularly at Vicenza.
Other players certain to make the squad if healthy include props Eric Fry, who is now starting regularly at London Scottish after signing just after the New Year, and Shawn Pittman. They will be joined by Chris Biller who is now healthy and at full fitness. He has been playing with San Francisco Golden Gate. Roland Suniula, who has been playing center with Auch in the ProD2 all year should also be on the team as should John Quill if he can stay on the pitch.
New York Athletic Club should have three guaranteed players on the team in Mike Petri, Toby L’Estrange, and Brian Doyle. Petri shared time with Robbie Shaw at scrumhalf during the Autumn tour and in his time he played well. Shaw was the surprise of the tour and his outstanding play should make him an easy pick for the summer. Both paired up well with Toby L’Estrange, who is possibly the answer the Eagles have been looking for at fly-half. Brian Doyle has recovered from his injury and ready to play.
One notable absence from this list is Paul Emerick. He has a long-term leg injury and may only be ready to play in July for the World Cup qualifiers.
Plan On Packing But No Guarantees: Derek Asbun, Inaki Basauri, Andrew Suniula, Zach Pangelinan, Zach Fenoglio, Shaun Davies, Chris Chapman, Mike MacDonald, James Paterson, Nic Johnson, Peter Dahl, and Gearoid McDonald.
Derek Asbun had been training with London Wasps but has since moved to the University of Cape Town. One of the reasons for the move was to get playing time at hooker. That has happened to a certain extend but not as much coach Tolkin would probably like to see. He’ll most likely get called in but working on those hooking skills is a must. The same goes for Zach Fenoglio. Andrew Suniula has been a stalwart for the Eagles in years past but injuries have taken their toll. He is not getting any younger and could be passed over for a younger option. Inaki Basauri has been in and out of the squad for the past few years. One of his best assets is versatility. That should earn him a place on the team. Nic Johnson started for the Eagles in the World Cup and will likely be healthy enough to earn a recall this summer, but recovering from concussions can be tricky.
Both Chris Chapman and Zach Pangelinan showed well in their limited time last fall. Depending on the availability of some other players they could be pushed out of the squad. One of those players is James Paterson. He is returning to health and will be playing with Glendale in the Elite Cup. His teammate in the tournament will be Shaun Davies, who could be stuck in a numbers game with both Petri and Shaw playing well at scrumhalf. Young Gearoid McDonald will likely return as L’Estrange’s understudy.
One of the most intriguing names on the list is Mike MacDonald. He has been playing with Olympic Club and is reportedly interested in playing for the Eagles again. He is getting up their in age but so far no one besides Pittman and Fry has shown the ability to start at the international level other than MacDonald.
The Hopefuls: Dean Gericke, Seamus Kelly, Cam Dolan, Madison Hughes, Graham Harriman, Nick Wallace, JJ Gagiano, Mike Palefau, Miles Craigwell, and Will Johnson.
The hopefuls comprise young players and one veteran who are hoping to break through. Will Johnson is back playing rugby after an absence but he has yet to re-prove himself as international quality. Graham Harriman earned his first cap this last fall but could also be left out to make way for another player. That player could be Cam Dolan. He was injured in the Americas Rugby Championship but before going down he was the American’s best player. If healthy look for him to make the squad. Seamus Kelly, Dean Gericke, and Madison Hughes all have a chance but will have to have very strong college seasons or make an impression in the non-cap match against Canada.
JJ Gagiano hasn’t played for the Eagles since the World Cup but has also been slowed by injury. He could return to the team this summer. Nick Wallace has gotten some minutes but with few other players pushing at the prop position, he could get even more time.
Palefau and Craigwell are former 7’s players that have been playing 15’s with Old Puget Sound Beach and doing quite well. It wouldn’t be shocking to see either of them called into the team.
Outside Looking In: Anthony Estrella, Anthony Purpura, Andre Liufau, Mate Moeakiola, Will Magie, and Sebastian Rodwell.
Several props make this list, mostly because they haven’t proven themselves in the past. Moeakiola has had the most success but doesn’t seem to be in the Eagles plans going forward. Liufau had some fitness concerns and it’s unclear if he has done enough to get back into the team. Estrella got some minutes in Japan this year but playing for the Eagles may be a stretch too far. Sebastian Rodwell is an England based player. He’s still young but was offered a professional contract in Italy at one point.
Wishes: Marcel Brache, Fudge Mabeta, Callum Black, Samu Manoa
Will this be the year that Samu Manoa returns to the Eagles? With the number of matches facing the team this summer it stands to reason that Manoa will make it to at least one. Of the three U.S.-eligible players, both Brache and Mabeta were left off their Super Rugby rosters for the season. That could mean they are open to playing for the Eagles as reaching the World Cup would be a career highlight. Black has been getting time for Ulster this season and he might not want to risk his contract and play for the Eagles.
Unavailable: Luke Hume, Colin Hawley, and Blaine Scully
With the Eagles 7’s team playing in their World Cup this June, it’s unlikely that any of these players will be available for the summer.
So with all that, here are the 30 that we think will be on the team this summer.
Forwards: Pittman, Fry, MacDonald, Biller, Asbun, Doyle, Stanfill, Manoa, LaValla, Quill, Clever, Basauri, Gagiano, N. Johnson, Wallace
Backs: Wyles, Ngwenya, R. Suniula, Petri, Shaw, Davies, Paterson, Brache, L’Estrange, McDonald, Hughes, Pangelinan, Chapman, A. Suniula, Palefau
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