BOULDER, Colo. – Men’s Eagles Head Coach Mike Tolkin has selected 35 players to be available for at least one of the team’s four matches in the month of November, including the historic match to take place Nov. 1 against the New Zealand All Blacks.
The Eagles will begin the November Tour against the All Blacks at Soldier Field in Chicago, Ill., before heading to Europe. Romania will host the first match of the European leg at Stadionul National Arcul de Triumf in Bucharest Nov. 8. Tonga awaits the Eagles in their next match at Kingsholm Stadium in Gloucester, England, Nov. 15, before they head to Stade de la Rabine in France for a match against Fiji Nov. 22.
Though the match at Soldier Field in Chicago, Ill., is not scheduled within the IRB’s end-of-year-test window, USA Rugby and Premiership Rugby reached an agreement for the release of Eagles playing in the Aviva Premiership. Tolkin will welcome Northampton Saints Cameron Dolan and Samu Manoa, Newcastle’s Eric Fry, Leicester Tiger Blaine Scully, and Saracens’ Hayden Smith and Chris Wyles in Chicago. The six Premiership players will return to their clubs following the historic match.
Thretton Palamo, also with Saracens, will be available for selection for the Eagles’ matches against Tonga and Fiji.
Other capped, overseas Eagles playing in the British Isles selected for the November Tour include Tim Maupin – who had been training with Trinity College prior to joining the Eagles Select XV at the 2014 IRB Americas Rugby Championship earlier this month – John Quill, Brett Thompson, and Tai Tuisamoa.
Scott LaValla will be available for three of the Eagles’ four matches, including the final match in France, where the lock plays for Stade Francais. The French contingent on the team will also be bolstered by the return of Taku Ngwenya, who has not suited up for the Eagles since the IRB Rugby World Cup 2015 Qualifier series against Canada in August 2013. Ngwenya’s Biarritz was relegated from the Top 14 last season.
“Taku is always a threat when he’s on the field,” Tolkin said. “He rejoins the squad and a good group of back-three players. I think he’s really excited about it and enthusiastic so he’ll have a lot of energy.”
Another capped Eagle who will make a return to the team following a lengthy spell away is Mate Moeakiola, who plays for Castenet in France. The prop made his Eagles debut in the team’s opening night loss to England at IRB Rugby World Cup 2007, during which he scored a try. Moeakiola’s 26 caps also encompass three matches at the World Cup in New Zealand in 2011.
“We had intended to bring [Mate] on to other trips over the last two years and, both times, he got injured before he come on to the tour,” Tolkin said. “This is kind of a chance for us to see what his form is like. With Titi [Lamositele] being out, losing Eric [after the All Blacks match], and Shawn Pittman retiring, it definitely left a little hole at prop. It’s an opportunity for a veteran who’s a good prop to work with some of the young guys, as well.”
Olive Kilifi and Nick Wallace, who started all three matches at the ARC in October outside of hooker Phil Thiel, are available for the full tour. Davenport University’s Angus MacLellan will travel to Europe with the Eagles, while Ben Tarr will stay with the squad throughout the assembly. Both young front rowers saw playing time in Canada and will hope to stake a claim for a Rugby World Cup spot with impressive November performances.
“We took five props on this tour, including Eric against the All Blacks, so we can give them four weeks of good training time with the Eagles at this level of rugby,” Tolkin said. “It will be great for them. We’ll see how they develop and what kind of progress they’ve made, and we’ll see if they’re guys we want to keep in the system.
“It’s not going to be short-term with them, but this will be a great month of evaluation and growing.”
A first cap could be handed to Greg Peterson, who, at just 23 years of age, has one cap with NSW Waratahs in Super Rugby and will be with the team for the three matches in Europe. The lock represented Australia at the 2011 IRB Junior World Championships but has expressed his interest to play senior-level test rugby for the United States.
Peterson’s father Kevin played American football for Northwestern University and the National Football League’s Dallas Cowboys, while his grandfather was a rugger.
“Greg and the Eagles have been speaking for a while and we’ve had a couple of attempts to have him at camps that weren’t able to come off because of his contract obligations,” Tolkin said. “We finally have a chance to bring him on board and have a look at him heading into the World Cup year.”
In all, 16 players called for the November Tour played together at the ARC, where the Eagles Select XV defeated Canada ‘A’ and Uruguay to finish second for a second consecutive year. Tim Stanfill scored four tries on the wing in two starts, while Troy Hall provided cover at full back in all three matches.
“The guys grew a lot between each game,” Tolkin said of the ARC. “I thought that they learned from the previous game and brought a better performance each time they played.”
In Tolkin’s first 16 months as head coach, the Eagles played Fiji, Romania, and Tonga at least once. Tonga defeated the Eagles in November 2012 before Tolkin’s side earned a 2-1 tour record with a defeat of Romania a week later. Tonga also visited StubHub Center in Carson, Calif., last year during the 2013 IRB Pacific Nations Cup. The loss at home was followed by a loss to Fiji in the same competition in Japan.
Ranked 12th, 16th, and 13th, respectively, Fiji, Romania, and Tonga will aid the Eagles’ World Cup preparations.
“Getting more familiar with the teams above us [in the rankings] always helps improve your performance,” Tolkin said. “We hope to take the lessons we learned in our last few games and bring them into these matches in November and build from that.”
The All Blacks are also ranked ahead of the Eagles, as well as every other union, at No. 1. The Rugby World Cup champions will bring their marquee brand and style of play to Soldier Field Nov. 1 to kick off the Eagles’ November Tour. The anticipated sell-out will be televised live in the United States on NBC. A pre-match show will air on Universal Sports at 2:00 P.M. CT before the live telecast on NBC begins at 2:30 P.M. CT. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:00 P.M. CT.
The Eagles have not played New Zealand since the 1991 World Cup, and have only hosted a senior test side from the Land of the Long White Cloud since 1980.
“After you play a game like the All Blacks, it’s an emotional high,” Tolkin said. “The fall from that is always a concern. I am concerned about our guys keeping the focus and not dropping down too far emotionally, but what will help us naturally is that there will be a lot of guys getting an opportunity after the Premiership guys leave.
“That energy of guys trying to put their hand up and get a spot on the Eagles will help us a lot.”
Metropolis coach Nate Osborne, a member of the Eagles Select XV coaching staff at this year’s ARC, joins Tolkin’s staff for the November Tour as an assistant coach, replacing Billy Millard. Millard leaves his Eagles post to concentrate on his duties as USA Rugby AIG Men’s Junior All-Americans head coach and High Performance 15s manager.
“Billy came into the Eagles setup a year ago and slotted in very well, bringing great experience, expertise, and professionalism to the squad,” Tolkin said. “We have accomplished many positive things over that period, and Billy was a big part of it. The HP role is one that is vital if we want to continue to develop, and I know he will do a great job there. I look forward to continuing to work with Billy, albeit in a new capacity, to improve our standard of play in America.
“He’s a good rugby man, he works hard, and he’s a good addition to the squad,” Tolkin said of Osborne.