Only five players who played in the 2011 Gold Coast 7s are back for the IRB Worlds Series opener this time around – Shalom Suniula, Zack Test, Mike Palefau, Matt Hawkins, and Tai Enosa.
Of these, Hawkins is the one who has been gone the longest. His falling out with previous Head Coach Al Caravelli coincided with Hawkins deciding to take a break from international rugby concentrate on his coaching (earlier we said it prompted Hawkins to take the break - that's not correct). But that coaching also rekindled a fire in Hawkins, who is back and, with his return, brings to the team plenty of power, experience, and the skills that made the USA’s scrum the best in international 7s.
But what happened to the other seven who don’t return?
Mark Bokhoven has retired. Miles Craigwell has been concentrating on 15s and will be with the USA Selects at the ARC. Nick Edwards has moved on. Peter Tiberio is back in Chicago and working on elements of his game. Folau Niua is injured, but could be back playing soon. Colin Hawley is away for non-rugby-related personal business, and should be back with the team soon. And Duncan Kelm has simply not been able to crack the lineup.
So some of those absent may well be pushing for places later. Andrew Durutalo and Blaine Scully are also injured players coming back to health and may well challenge for spots on the team, whether in Dubai and South Africa, or later in Wellington and Las Vegas.
Taylor Mokate will be with the USA Selects in Victoria, BC. He is still someone to watch.
So to the seven players who join the the five listed above on the squad. Who they are, and why they’re on the team:
Peter Dahl. Tough, hard, physical, very savvy, and can cover the pitch. As a true openside flanker he will be there to win the breakdown.
Luke Hume. Already seen in action for the USA program in the Serevi 7s and NACRA 7s. Superb sidestep and confidence in his acceleration. Speed in 7s can often be mental, and his confidence in his ability to take a gap is wonderful to see.
Carlin Isles. Has been playing rugby for about 12 weeks. Very fast. Really quite exceptionally quick, but also his ability to understand the game means you wouldn’t believe he is so new to the game.
Rocco Mauer. Joined the USA team later in the season and showed some wonderful flashes. He can get down on himself, though. If he stays mentally strong, he is a terrific wing who can sub in at hooker too.
Mike Te’o. Touted early in the year by RUGBY Magazine, Te’o proceeded to spark Belmont Shore to club 15s and 7s titles, and the U20s to a JWRT win, also. That’s a heck of a season for a 19-year-old. He will be a halfback who can slot in as a hooker. He is stocky, powerful, and unpredictable.
Brett Thompson. The opposite of Te’o in that while Te’o doesn't exactly look the part as an international 7s athlete, Thompson looks every inch of it. He’s a tremendous athlete, and stands 6-3. He has a combined rugby and football background, and can play in the air and on the ground. Like Te’o, He’s got contact skills, and can throw a sidestep and a pass.
Maka Unufe. Held out of Gold Coast last year, Unufe made his way back to the USA team later on. He was raw, but fast, strong, but still, at 19, was still growing. Now he is more powerful, more mature, and has learned a lot. Oh, and he’s still a wonderful athlete.