This past Saturday the USA Eagles opened up the first round of the 2015 Pacific Nations Cup (PNC) in San Jose vs. Manu Samoa. Now if you recall Manu Samoa came into the PNC after a close and impressive match vs. the defending world champion All Blacks. In that competitive match Manu Samoa unleashed a fast paced game with lots of big hard runs by some large players. They went straight at the All Blacks and challenged the champs to stop them.
Manu Samoa came into San Jose’s Avaya Stadium last Saturday with the same game plan of using an fast open play with hard running by their centers and backs. The game initially went according to plan as they earned 21 point lead over the Eagles. However, no matter how hard Manu Samoa came with their attack (and at times running over Eagles players) the Eagles did not back down. Manu Samoa’s game plan was one of over powering the Eagles and wearing them down over time.
The Eagles line up featured several young players as well as veterans but former captain and long-time Eagles starter Todd Clever was not in the line-up (more on that shortly). While the line up the Eagles put forth last Saturday featured an impressive talent with some quality and exciting youth in the likes of Danny Barrett, Seamus Kelly, Thretton Palamo, it didn’t feature the likes of Clever, Niua, Stanfill, Samu Manoa, etc. That can be viewed as a good thing that the Eagles pool is getting deeper to there they don’t have to rely on the same few players. We hope they do get all the guys some work in the PNC in preparation for the Rugby World Cup.
Even through the Eagles, as Mike Tomlkin has been quoted as saying “spotted Samoa 21 points” they kept in the game and ended in a 21-16 loss. The issue aside from the inconsistent referring seemed to favor Manu Samoa, Manu Samoa was putting 4-5 phase attacks together with big hard runs, by big guys and over time the work to stop those runs did take it toll on the Eagle defenders. That didn’t stop the Eagles as they battled back from a large deficit and even had a few chances to score that didn’t come to fruition. The forwards played well, the guys off the bench really came in and gave the side a boost. If you watched the game in San Jose or via ESPN3, you saw that the Eagles did not give up and the effort was truly there to the end.
Prior to the game there was the announcement that long time Captain, Todd Clever was being replaced at captain by Chris Wyles (also a long-time Eagle and proven professional). Based on the fact that it was Wyles who assuming the Captaincy from Clever there were no questions as to why. It seemed logical.
Less than 24hrs after the great effort by the Eagles the attention shifted from their effective play and how they can take effort that into this weeks game versus Japan, to the dismissal of long-time Eagle Todd Clever by USA Rugby! Without providing much detail USA Rugby has allowed the cloud of assumptions and Internet rumors to fill that void. Since the incident the long-time Captain has demonstrated his own leadership and not commented, or share his side. Seems for now Clever is opting to let things take their course (watch he makes a big announcement right as we post this).
We don’t know what actually happened or really what were likely series of events, which resulted in this drastic action by USA Rugby. It could also be an over-reaction by USA Rugby (not that they’d ever do that). It could be justified based on things we aren’t privy to. Whether you liked Todd Clever or not there are a few points that are non-debatable! One, his effort on the pitch cannot be questioned, he’s always played no matter the score or outcome of the game. His preparation as an athlete cannot be questioned, he’s not one you can say is out of shape, or unfit. Two, He’s been the face of American Rugby for close to 10 years and has carried the reputation of USA Rugby as a quality ambassador never damaging the name in public. He should be given respect for how he’s worn the title of Captain publically. He’s held the Captain title for so long that fans had dubbed him Captain America. Three, He has been the most famous or well know American player of the past decade. Now we don’t have any verified reports of what he is like at training, in the locker room, etc and I think that is a credit to him and the rest of the Eagles squad that if there is any “dirty laundry” they’ve keep that out of the public eye.
We know that the stories on the dismissal of the former Eagles Captain has been big news (rightfully so especially with the vague reasons cited by USA Rugby) but that story has over shadowed and actually detracted from their efforts on Saturday, and now may pose as a distraction for this Friday. We have lost focus that if the Eagles bring that type of effort this Friday night in Sacramento, they can pick up a big win over Japan.
Whatever it is, we hope the Eagles put forth another great effort on Friday and pick up a big win in front of a home crowd! We also hope that whatever issues exist between USA Rugby and Todd Clever will be resolved and he can finish off the great career with one more Rugby World Cup this fall! we think he’s earned one more shot at a RWC roster spot.