Mike Friday and the team at USA Rugby have assembled a quality and competitive side for the Rio Games. Mike Friday has over the past two years identified, developed and coordinated players who can play the 7s game at a very high level. This has yielded a significant change in the 7s landscape making the USA not just a legitimate contender at any given tournament but an established ability upset any 7s power on a consistent bases making them dangerous to the rugby status quo.
The credit has to go to Mike Friday to a large degree. He’s gotten the right personnel to play the right game. It is also a credit to the players who’ve whole heartily committed themselves to becoming the best 7s players and earning Olympic glory for themselves but also their county. These are guys who are year round (minus the Rugby World Cup last fall) been focused on 7s.
So as a fan and what we’d like to think somewhat knowledgeable fans, are happy to see the “right” guys on the team. By that we mean that the guys who’ve been part of the 7s development and working to qualify for Rio, working to move up in the rankings, working to bring home a medal have for the most part been selected to the squad. It would have been easy for guys to be dropped/added for political reasons, marketing or name recognition but that was averted for the most part.
All the guys on this roster have top rugby billing and more so in 7s. That’s important (to have the 7s experience). Its good to see the likes of Madison Hughes, Maka Unufe, Danny Barrett, Zack Test, Garret Bender and Folau Niua be chosen. Also the newer guys who’ve done remarkable work to become outstanding 7s players (and not just “athletes” playing rugby). Perry Baker and Carlin Isles are well deserving of the selection.
Andrew Duratalo was one of those workhorses who has to be credited with the USA’s qualification for the games, as he was there that qualifying season and should have earned a spot with his performance then. We are pleased to see his work and contributions were not forgotten and his selection.
Ben Pinkelman, the youngster is an example of having a program to develop players as he matriculated through the youth and then the high performance camps to get to this point versus again pulling a top level athlete and the next day placing them on the pitch (like many fans kept proposing Mike Friday do with guys like Tim Tebow).
Then there is Nate Ebner, who is getting a lot of attention by the media for being the mix to make the team and now having made the team. There is this perception that he’s an NFL player and they are great so if he’s on the team we’ve got a gold! Nope. Not true. Let’s break down Nate Ebner. He’s a great athlete, yes and is a professional football player, but don’t forget that Nate was primarily a rugby player first. That’s what he played growing up and loved. Football was something that he moved over to later. He’s not a NFL Player now trying rugby; he was always a rugby player who was playing professional football. Nate’s fit as a result of bring a professional athlete, but he also had played rugby and 7s and so he understood if he was going to chase this dream the level of fitness needed to chase this dream (which most people don’t understand). He already understood the rules, the flow of the game, the strategies, etc. which are something someone with all the athletic ability will not be able to compensate for at this level, against this caliber opposition. So let us applaud Nate’s success in chasing his dream, but this was a rugby player turned pro football player not the other way around.
Look at Jarryd Hayne. He didn’t make the Rio squad for Fiji as some predicted. Why? He was able to, because he was a great athlete make the jump to the NFL that's a big feat. Most who didn’t know the game though Hayne leaving the NFL to try and become an Olympian was a sure thing. Well, anyone who knows the game or specifically 7s knew that was not a likely occurrence. First, he was opting to try and get on the Fiji 7s team. Really??? Fiji is arguably the best 7s team in the world. He wanted to jump on that team without the recent experience of playing 7s? He was playing rugby league not union before the NFL (so there is a significant difference there as well). We didn’t see him play so we can’t say anything for sure, but it’s a possibility he lasted this long with the Fijian team because of the publicity it generated (he was a star in Australia as a League player and had made a name here as a “rugby” player who made it to the NFL). We don’t know for sure he may have been in serious contention to the end, but if you really understand the game you couldn’t have been surprised that he didn’t make the Fijian side.
Football and rugby are very different. Now Rugby League and Football are more alike than Rugby Union. Players do change codes, but those are the exceptions as a general rule not that many top level players that bounce around. We know that 15s is a totally different game the 7s. Not just in the play, but strategy. Look at the top level rugby players like Quade Cooper (who we also predicted would not make the conversion as easily) was unable to be successful at 7s. Not because he’s not great rugby player or athlete, but 7s is a different game and he would have needed much more time to adapt his play to the 7s style. So to think you’ll just take fast guys with no rugby experience or great rugby (15s or league) players and overnight make them world class 7s players in just ignorant in our opinion.
There is Chris Wyles, who has been selected to the team and we will be honest, we didn’t know how he’d pan out. He’s a bit older, he’s been playing primarily 15s for a long time, but his advantage is as a fullback he’s got vision, he’s more adept at working in space and moving, but still we were uncertain of his ability to make the side, not in any way because of his skill or commitment, but just because it’s a different game. We trust that Mike Friday knows what he’s doing and he’s had time to work with Wyles and assess his fit into the team’s plan. Had Wyles, not made it however we’d have said the same thing for him as we have for Cooper and Hayne. Its not easy to be a top level 7s player.
If/when teams just pick guys because of names (regardless of the sport of code) it also cheapens the efforts and work of those 7s players who’ve been working day in and day out for years to get to this point. Guys who have committed themselves to be more than just an athlete like Baker and Isles who’ve gone from just being fast guys who now can read the field, play defense and fully contribute as rugby players versus guys with crazy speed should be acknowledged for their work, not just talents.
We say this about the 7s squad and about Team USA…let us focus on this for what it is. It is Rugby 7s! Its chance for us to assert our name as a rugby power in the world, not because we won a medal a century ago (that’s bringing up old shit like your girlfriend does). This is a chance for us to establish the Red, White and Blue in the rugby world now! Its not about oh, athletes, its not about one NFL player, its not about what anyone else is doing its about fully crediting and appreciating rugby (7s specifically) and committed world class American rugby players who are playing.
This blog on The Rugby Republic site is called Rants, Rucks and The Rugby Republic, so we did provide the disclaimer that this could be a rant.
With that said we extend our congratulations to the boys who’ve made the team and will be supporting them 100% in Rio this summer. Boys its time to #ShockTheWorld.