The team USA 7s coach Al Caravelli is taking to Guadalajara for the Pan-Am Games is an intriguing one, as the coach has gone young, and gone fast.
One experienced head who might well have made the team was Paul Emerick, but the 7s prop/center injured his knee and has undergone surgery. He is expected to be out for an unspecified period, but should be back by the New Year.
His Pan-Am dream, though, is cruelly shut down due to injury.
Also left home are two players we’ve seen a lot of: Justin Boyd, and Miles Craigwell. Craigwell is in the middle of transitioning from a wing to a hooker, and basically he needs more time. Boyd was simply beaten out by some outstanding play from other players.
Also left home is Don Pati, a scrumhalf in a sea of very strong halfback players, Andrew Durutalo, who was this close to making the team and should be in the mix going forward, and Duncan Helm, a versatile player who was simply beaten for pace. (Tai Enosa was initially named to the camp but could not attend.)
And pace is really the word of the day. Just about every change from previous USA teams puts in a faster man. Folau Niua is a very quick halfback. Peter Tiberio, Rocco Mauer and Maka Unufe give Caravelli three outside backs who can fly – and play good defense.
Unufe as an intriguing choice. A star for the United U19 team, he is very quick, willing to try audacious moves, and was also a star basketball player in high school. His ball handling is strong and he is very good in the air – giving the Eagles five players who are capable of catching a restart on the run.
Unufe is also young, but Caravelli said that at every high-pressure opportunity – U19 National Final, All-Star 7s, and this camp, he has come through.
“I’m so happy with these players,” Caravelli told RUGBYMag.com. “It was a very hard string of conversations talking to the guys who weren’t picked, but the way to look at it isn’t that they didn’t do something – somebody else just did something better.
So this is what they have:
In the forwards, the USA goes with Mark Bokhoven, Nu’u Punimata and Zack Test.
Three others can play either back and forward: Colin Hawley (who can play pretty much anywhere), Blaine Scully, and Mile Pulu (who projects more as a center-wing, but can slot in as a forward).
This entire forward group is very tall, but gives up, with the absence of Emerick and Hawkins, some bulk. That’s why Nu’u Punimata is there. He is not a tall forward, but he’s powerful and can cover ground. A former defensive lineman in college, he is physical, and that aspect of his game will be hugely important.
Bokhoven says he wants to take more of a role on offense, and to do that he’s going to need to thunder through some people.
Test is now the squad vice-captain and, as one of the most experienced players on the team, should be a leader in getting players where they need to be, especially on defense.
Test is among one of the best in the world at catching restarts in the air. Bokhoven is strong there and so are Scully and Hawley.
At halfback, Shalom Suniula is the captain of the team and will likely play both flyhalf and scrumhalf. He has an excellent sidestep and his game centers around making a quick break and then feeding his support. He has been working well with Folau Niua, who also can slot in at both halfback positions.
He can also kick off from both feet with accuracy.
Peter Tiberio also plays scrumhalf and others, such as Roland Suniula and Colin Hawley, can be flyhalf.
At center, Roland Suniula is a shifty, playmaker type. Mile Pulu is a hard-running type. Hawley (again) can play very well there. But perhaps the most exciting possibility is at wing. Rocco Mauer, Maka Unufe, and Peter Tiberio are all very, very fast. Pulu can run, but those other three can really run. The injection of pace throughout this team is the big change.
The list of players not selected, ineligible for Olympics, or injured is a list, generally of players who are bigger, but slower than those who have been picked for the Pan-Am Games. Several are of similar body types – lanky, deceptively fast, deceptively strong.
Unufe, once again, brings something intriguing to the mix. He has a long stride and doesn’t look like he’s running fast – until he’s by you. Mauer, on the other hand, runs with short, quick strides, meaning he can change direction easily and dramatically.
Team USA 2011 Pan-American Games Squad
Mark Bokhoven (Denver Barbarians; Ames, Iowa)
Colin Hawley (Olympic Club of San Francisco; Trowbridge, Calif.)
Rocco Mauer (Chicago Lions; Cleveland, Ohio)
Folau Niua (San Francisco Golden Gate; East Palo Alto, Calif.)
Milemoti Pulu (San Francisco Golden Gate; East Palo Alto, Calif.)
Nu’u Punimata (Old Puget Sound Beach; Seattle, Wash.)
Blaine Scully (Unattached; Sacramento, Calif.)
Roland Suniula (Boston; Boston, Mass.)
Shalom Suniula (Belmont Shore; San Diego, Calif.)
Zack Test (At Large; Palo Alto, Calif.)
Peter Tiberio (University of Arizona; Naperville, Ill.)
Maka Unufe (Utah Warriors; Provo, Utah)