New USA Men’s 7s Head Coach Matt Hawkins has a few holes to fill in his squad as various changes have affected his lineup of players.
Blaine Scully is under contract with Leicester, so his 7s contract has reverted back to the USA team. As Hawkins put it, “we hope he makes it work and doesn’t come back.” Meaning, of course, they’d be happy to have Scully on the 7s team, but want the Leicester contract to become long-term.
Meanwhile, Luke Hume isn’t in residency anymore, and Colin Hawley is taking some time off from the team to concentrate on career interests. With Hawkins’s playing contract now replaced by a coaching contract, that’s four spots now left open.
That’s the good news – there’s money available for new players. The bad news is that there are only 11 players currently in residency for a team that needs at least 12: Nate Auspurger, Andrew Durutalo, Nick Edwards, Jack Halalilo, Carlin Isles, Folau Niua, Shalom Suniula, Mike Te’o, Zack Test, and Brett Thompson.
Hawkins has spent the late summer putting together a list of players who might be available to come in, and he is less inclined to offer a full-time contract as he is to spread the money around, and provide housing and a stipend. What Hawkins wants is over 20 or more players in Chula Vista.
“We’re a full-time program, but we have to create a competitive environment,” said Hawkins. “We have to have the guys in the system who can replaced the guys who aren’t doing the job. We’re a lot closer than the first time we spoke.”
In the New Year, the United States Olympic Committee is expected to offer a new round of grants, and it’s quite possible that following the Winter Olympics the Summer Games sports (including rugby) will get a boost in support.
Hawkins wants to re-work the Rugby 7s contracts to include performance incentives. Currently, said the coach, the team has a confused combination of too much comfort and not enough. Players are worried in their day-to-day lives because the pay is so low and they’re not sure how long-term their deals are, but at the same time, players are guaranteed their pay whether they play well or not, or whether they get any game time or not.
It appears that Hawkins wants to provide more players with a base pay, and then work in incentives based on game time or performance.
“We have to have the guys to replace the guys who aren’t doing the job,” said Hawkins. “Or at least guys who push those on the team to be exceptional. In any work environment, you have a financial incentive for good performance.”
The players Hawkins is looking for are generally young athletes who have just finished college or are just finishing up, and can complete their studies from the San Diego area. They will need to relocate to train at Chula Vista, and handle decent but spare living arrangements.
Hawkins said he is trying to set up part-time jobs and internships to help players augment their income or get work experience. Longtime OMBAC President Bob Watkins has stepped in to offer support there, as have others.
Joining that group could be a contingent from the US military’s World-Class Athlete Program (WCAP). Some players are expected to trickle in through WCAP to train with the team.
What means is that Hawkins hopes to go from not enough players to a large group that knows the team’s game plan and are all worried about losing their playing time if they don’t play well. The players who don’t make the 1st side will also be given opportunities to play and compete.
“The biggest part is understanding what structures we have in place and how to execute them,” said Hawkins. “We need guys to come in and stay for a few months or so and work with us. We need to develop that culture and that environment.”
What Hawkins will not be doing is parachuting in players who haven’t trained with the team. That’s not to say he won’t use someone like Mike Palefau as a solid veteran leader, but those guys will have to spend time with the team in camp.
Right now, he just needs more athletes.