The Eagles snapped an eight-game losing streak last month, beating Georgia 25-23 in Tbilisi and Russia 28-7 in London. Before that, they lost a very competitive contest to the heavily favored Maori All Blacks in front of a sold out crowd in Philadelphia. So November was a good month for the USA, and I caught up with fullback Chris Wyles to talk about it.
PC: You snapped the losing streak. How does it feel to get the proverbial monkey off your back?
CW: Obviously it was pretty important. We had a pretty frustrating summer that didn’t go to plan. We felt we worked really hard in the summer and we weren’t getting any results, and to come away with what actually was three pretty important games for us - I’m including the Maori game as well because, I wasn’t playing in that, but the guys had a great performance in front of a packed crowd - and to go and beat Georgia away, which is a tough fixture, one of the hardest we’ll play, and then to back it up with a win against Russia, it definitely put us in a good position to move forward to the qualifiers against Uruguay and hopefully a good summer tour as well.
PC: Playing devil’s advocate, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say the wins came as a result of a step down in competition, as Canada, Fiji, Japan, Samoa and Tonga – the teams you lost to this summer, are all ranked higher than Georgia and Russia.
CW: There’s no doubt that the [Pacific Nations Cup] is definitely a step up in the competition, but what I would say, and I just made that point, to go away in Georgia and play against Georgia, which they’re a very different team when they’re home, compared to when we’ve played them in the past in the summer in the US, without all of their name players. The point I’m trying to make is, yes the PNC is a really good competition, but we also feel that win against Georgia away was a good turning point for us moving forward.
PC: Since the summer, a handful of new players have emerged, several coaches have been replaced and a new defensive structure has been installed. How did that change the overall vibe in camp?
CW: There’s a few guys who’ve come in and have stepped up on this tour. Cam Dolan, for example, he wasn’t starting in the summer tour. It wasn’t until the end of the tour when he came off the bench and had some good games and started really picking up his form, and now he’s stepped up into this tour. Him and some other players who’ve come in and played well have definitely helped. You talk about Tai [Tuisamoa], and Folau [Niua] as well at outside center. These guys are turning up and playing well, so that’s certainly helping. I think we’ve had three or four coaches come in who’ve also made a big difference, and they’ve brought in new structures and sort of a fresh start, which I think has helped as well.
PC: You guys had a good November Tour last year and went 3-3 in Mike Tolkin’s first year as head coach, but followed it up with the eight-game losing streak we’re all tired of talking, reading and writing about. From a player perspective, is there anything to suggest this November Tour was more of a stepping stone toward a better spring and summer?
CW: It’s a strange one, because last November we had a good tour. We had two wins against Romania and Russia, and we thought we were going in with momentum and we went and lost seven games. Definitely we feel like we’ve had another good November Tour, with a lot of momentum going into the Uruguayan qualifiers. As I’ve mentioned, the PNC is a different level of competition, and I think that’s our marker. Not to get ahead of ourselves, we have to qualify, we have to beat Uruguay, we’ve got two tough games against them home and away, but I think the real marker of whether we’re improving and moving forward is how we do in the PNC, because that is another step up in terms of competition.
PC: Let’s get a little less serious with some of these questions. Is there any place you’ve been on tour you’d care never to go back to?
CW: That’s part of the great thing about rugby is getting to travel, and every single place I’ve been is a different culture and a different experience, and I enjoy them all to be honest.
PC: In your time playing, with the Eagles or Saracens or wherever else, is there a team you dislike losing to the most?
CW: No one likes losing to Canada. That’s not a game we like to lose, but if I’m being honest I don’t like losing any games.
PC: There are some definite characters on the Eagles, from Luke Hume to Scott LaValla or the rapping Phil Thiel. Who is the class clown if you had to put that label on anybody?
CW: I think Luke Hume likes to think he is, but not everyone laughs at his jokes.