Vegas looms as Eagles prepare with HP Camp
"I'm expecting to field two strong teams – one to play on the Series and one to play in the invitational tournament – and I'm expecting the Falcons to win that tournament."
CHULA VISTA, Calif. - Men's Eagles Sevens Head Coach Mike Friday will choose from 26 athletes at the Feb. 23 to March 1 High Performance Camp at the Olympic Training Center to travel to Las Vegas for the upcoming leg of the 2015-16 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series.
Nineteen residents will be joined by five remote and two World-Class Athlete Program athletes, with injuries keeping Nic Edwards, Brett Thompson, and Stephen Tomasin from training ahead of HSBC USA Sevens. Pat Blair and Aaron Davis made the trip from southern Florida over the weekend, where they and Edwards were with the Men's Eagles as they finished their home leg of the Americas Rugby Championship. Edwards scored his first international try in his debut cap, but suffered an injury before the end of the first half of Saturday's shutout win for the 15s team.
"It's great to see that Pat got capped and Nic got capped and scored, as well, but bittersweet for Nic, who's been a fantastic serviceman for the sevens program and USA Rugby, to finally get his 15s cap but then to suffer that horrendous injury," Friday said. "Our thoughts are with him and we wish him a speedy recovery, because he typifies everything about our group in terms of his resilience, his work ethic, his never-say-die attitude, and you saw that on the pitch in the way he went about his business on Saturday."
Phil Greening has been working with the ARC coaching staff, including new Eagles Head Coach John Mitchell, and will be away in South America during this week's Camp and the March 4-6 tournament in Nevada. Friday and assistant coach Chris Brown will lead the charge as they have done throughout the young 2015-16 Series, with the Eagles currently in seventh in the standings after stops in the United Arab Emirates, South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia.
Despite the returns of 2014-15 Dream Team selection Danny Barrett and Martin Iosefo, as well as the debut of Colorado State's Ben Pinkelman, at HSBC Wellington Sevens and HSBC Sydney Sevens, the Eagles fell out of both tournaments in the Plate Semifinals. Further injuries to Kevin Swiryn and Brett Thompson leave the Camp in Chula Vista a bit light, with opportunities for several athletes to make a case for Las Vegas selection in one of two teams.
"We'll focus on what we normally do," Friday said. "The reality is we need to be better at so many things following the last two legs. We've got some real themes in areas that we need to improve as a team but, individually, players have got to step up to the mark and start playing more consistently, making sure they do their jobs and execute the individual roles and responsibilities within the team."
While the Eagles will face Wales, Canada, and current Series leader South Africa at Sam Boyd Stadium, 12 athletes will take to the pitches outside the main event for the Las Vegas Invitational tournament as USA Falcons. The Falcons have reached the Cup Final and Third-Place Match in the invitational's past two incarnations, giving Eagle hopefuls a proving ground for national team selection.
Campers such as Davis, Tua Laei, and Peter Malcolm have not yet been capped on the Series, but could find themselves putting on an Eagles jersey sooner than later depending on performances this week and potentially at the LVI.
"I'm expecting to field two strong teams - one to play on the Series and one to play in the invitational tournament - and I'm expecting the Falcons to win that tournament," Friday said. "It's a real tough tournament and that's a bold statement, but, if these boys want to be pushing for the World Series and these boys want to be in contention for Rio, they need to step up, put in big performances, and show the commitment to task and the mental aptitude to get the job done.
"Likewise those that are given the opportunity to represent the Eagles in Vegas need to deliver. If they don't, and somebody is worthy of having an opportunity on the back of their performances in the Falcons squad, then we will make the changes [prior to HSBC Vancouver Sevens] if need be."
Roster selections for the March 4-6 weekend in Las Vegas will be made ahead of the team's travel to Sin City at the culmination of Camp.
Men's Eagles Sevens High Performance Camp | Feb. 23-March 1
Nate Augspurger - Men's Eagles Sevens
Perry Baker - Men's Eagles Sevens
Danny Barrett - Men's Eagles Sevens
Garrett Bender - Men's Eagles Sevens
Pat Blair - Men's Eagles Sevens
Aaron Davis - 1823 Rugby
Seth Halliman - Central Washington University
Will Holder - U.S. Army World-Class Athlete Program
Madison Hughes - Men's Eagles Sevens
Martin Iosefo - Men's Eagles Sevens
Carlin Isles - Men's Eagles Sevens
Tua Laei - Brigham Young University
Ben Leatigaga - U.S. Army World-Class Athlete Program
Matai Leuta - Men's Eagles Sevens
Peter Malcom - Wheeling Jesuit University
Jope Motokana - Seattle Saracens
Folau Niua - Men's Eagles Sevens
Thretton Palamo - Men's Eagles Sevens
Ben Pinkelman - Colorado State University
ConRoy Smith - Atlantis All Stars
Joey Sok - Columbus
Shalom Suniula - Men's Eagles Sevens
Zack Test - Men's Eagles Sevens
Peter Tiberio - Men's Eagles Sevens
Chris Turori - Men's Eagles Sevens
Maka Unufe - Men's Eagles Sevens