First of all, I dislike the term taxi squad, and I am not sure it’s even being used correctly – a taxi squad is usually used in football to delineate players who aren’t eligible to play, but are just there for practice.
That’s not what the seven non-contract players in camp for the USA men’s 7s team are. In fact, they’re the opposite. While a taxi squad player is paid under contract, he can’t play in the real games. The seven we’re talking about for the USA 7s team are not under contract, but can play in real games. So that makes them … the bus squad? Parachute squad? Yes, I like that better. Parachute squad.
New USA coach Alexander Magleby didn’t get to choose the players who are invited to camp. Al Caravelli made that list before he “resigned.” We’ll find out if that list is consistent with what Magleby wants in the team in the future, but it’s doubtful he’ll make huge changes.
Here’s what the seven on the Parachute Squad bring to the table:
Mark Bokhoven. Scapegoated by a few, including RUGBYMag.com for the lack of physicality on defense. But he’s still a smart, fit, experienced player.
Miles Craigwell. Is he a wing or a forward? Many feel he’s actually not speedy enough to be a wing, and therefore, with other players around with more pace, he needs to complete the shift to hooker.
Andrew Durutalo. Big and strong, he made one very noticeable error in Las Vegas, but it was an error of over-eagerness – trying to make a play at the end of the game.
Nick Edwards. Don’t know what to make of Edwards. Is he the player who in 2010 played hurt and was so wriggly and crafty and impossible to tackle the first hit? Or is he the guy in the first three tournaments who didn’t seem to want to play team ball?
J.P. Eloff. Everywhere Eloff has played he’s been excellent. Magleby coached him in the All Americans and 7s All Americans, so he knows what the young flyhalf can do. Still, it’s a long shot that he will make the 12.
Nu’u Punimata. An interesting case, Punimata got noticed by the Eagles because of his work rate and his physicality. But this season he seemed a little timid, maybe a little unsure of what was required of him. We think if he’s given a little more free rein to make plays, he might blossom.
Mike Palefau. Probably the best player for the USA in recent tournaments, his biggest issue is consistent passing. If he can lock down his relationship with his wings, he will be fine. The reason the USA’s offense was so dangerous with the ball at the Pan-Am games is in part because Mile Pulu hit his wings perfectly on the run. Palefau needs to do that.
Of those seven, Durutalo and Palefau probably have the best shot at being picked for Hong Kong and Japan. Then Craigwell, Punimata, and Bokhoven represent players with something to prove.
Is Nick Edwards the guy to use his experience to keep the team glued together? I don’t know, but you never know.
Do you give a 12th spot to a young flyhalf just getting started in JP Eloff? Maybe, but you have to be sure the guy can play.
Now look at the contracted players. With Roland Suniula out of the picture, there are only ten, and it could be that all ten make the squad this time around.
Tai Enosa, who, remember, has some IRB World Series experience and is a shining light offensively, and Blaine Scully are both back from injury. Scully has really turned heads in training camp. He works very hard, and he is a forward who can play in the backs quite easily. Look for him to stake his claim right now.
If there are players on the bubble then they would be Rocco Mauer and Garrett Bender. Mauer really hasn’t been given a lot of playing time, and he seems to have done fine when he has played. This may be the time to just see what the guy can do. Bender got a little work with the team in the last two tournaments, but not a lot of time. Again, if you’ve got him on contract, you may as well use him.
As for the rest, the important questions may center less around speed, skills and the like, and more around teamwork and leadership.
Can Shalom Suniula lead the team in this tumultuous time? Will Zack Test step up as a leader and not play like someone who is under pressure to prove himself every game?
Magleby likes to spread the leadership jobs around, and invest every player in leading the team; that’s probably a good thing, especially with Matt Hawkins gone and Roland Suniula having left in a bit of a snit.
Maybe the guys who get picked will be those who are self-starters, low maintenance.
With 17 players in camps Magleby doesn’t have a lot of wiggle room to make his picks, but it still seems like he can make a statement or two which the squad he takes across the Pacific. I, for one. Hope he makes a big statement.