The changes for the USA 7s team are significant for several reasons, and once again open the door a crack on a topic many want to know more about – what is Head Coach Matt Hawkins thinking?
I’ve been around the Ursus maritimus for some years and I think I have a little handle on it. We’ll see.
What I do know is that Hawkins really does want competition for slots on the team. Every coach has wanted that competition, but Hawkins may now be in a position to actually possess that elusive state of being. He has several players in camp with international experience now, and he wants them to fight it out for a place on the World Series team.
That didn’t really happen this time around, but it will eventually. Miles Craigwell and Zac Mizell, two played who were in Dubai and Port Elizabeth, aren’t even in camp. So if you look at Shalom Suniula and Ryan Matyas as the two coming in for those players, they had a vacant slot to compete for, which is different.
(Back to Suniula in a second.)
But in the choice of Danny Barrett you have what appears to be a clear competition. Barrett and Pat Blair are both hard forwards, not tall, who bash and work their way across the rugby field. Blair is a grafter; someone who will succeed by toughness and work rate. Barrett … well Danny Barrett is something else entirely. He beat out Blair because he can turn a game on its head.
In addition, Barrett has greatly improved his consistency in play. He is physical, reads the 7s field pretty well, and moves around the park. But more than anything else, he scores clutch tries.
In the USA 7s Collegiate Rugby Championship, Danny Barrett scored eight tries. A nice enough total. But consider that he only scored one in pool play. He scored two in a 21-12 victory over Arizona, three in a 33-21 victory over UCLA, and two in a 19-12 victory over Life. Three win-or-go-home games, Cal scores 11 tries, and Barrett scores seven of them.
In the Americas Rugby Championship, Barrett took a game that was still in doubt against Canada and fashioned a long try out of almost nothing, rumbling over a couple of Canadian defenders as he did so. Against Uruguay, he scored another key try to ensure a victory, handing out on the wing when the backs got sucked in.
He is fearless, and I hope he isn’t timid in Las Vegas simply because he’s new.
So that was a long reasoning on why Barrett just came in and took a forward spot from Blair, which is exactly what Hawkins wants.
Another message from Hawkins – being dropped isn’t the end of the world. Shalom Suniula, he said, was dropped on form. Whether his other options panned out or not (it looks as if Nate Augspurger did not), Suniula, who at his best has good acceleration as an attacker, passes well, possesses vision, and is a dogged tackler, got to work, and got himself back on the team. That’s a great message for anyone, especially if you want 25-30 players in the residency program. Not making the team should motivate you, but it should not end you as a prospect.
What do the differences mean when the team takes the field? Matyas seems a little more polished than Mizell, whose harshest lesson the circuit was that no one’s fooling around in the rucks.
It’s a power team, with Barrett, Andrew Durutalo and Nu’u Punimata designed to bust through defenses and clog up the defensive line. The reuniting of Suniula and Folau Niua at halfback is a welcome one. They work well together and, if Suniula is indeed approach his form of 2011, then defenses will have to mark him and Niua carefully.
That will leave space open for more players – Carlin Isles and Nick Edwards, obviously, but Zack Test and Ryan Matyas, as well.
The changes, then, make the USA team a little more steady, and provide some game-breaking ability in the forwards. They also send a message that all players, should be aware they could lose their spot, and that all players, even the ones who are playing for the USA Falcons in the LVI next week, should have hope.