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Versatility Key to USA 7s Group

Thursday Sep 10, 2009 in Elite Level Rugby USA 7s

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(Marco Barnard can play four positions well. Ian Muir photo.)



USA 7s head coach Al Caravelli wants all his players to have the versatility to play more than one position.

Many USA players, in fact, have been prepared to play such disparate positions was wing and prop.

“If you have amazing speed then that’s great,” he said. “But if you don’t, you can still play wing if you are strong in the tackle, smart, and have a good step. We’ve had several players who could do that.”

Versatility affords the coach the ability to make adjustments in tournaments based on injuries and player matchups. Caravelli likes to use two wings in games – bringing in the second a few minutes into the second half.

He does that to bring in fresh legs, hoping a rested wing can ice a game with a quick try. Caravelli said he does not like to make halftime changes because opposing coaches might see that change and make personnel adjustments as a result.

Of the 31 players assembling at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., almost all can play at least one position, some can play as many as four, and only a small handful are limited to just one position. It’s likely most of those will be taught another position in camp.

“Each player has one primary position which they need to know cold,” said Caravelli. “And then they have others they are expected to be able to slot in when needed.”

Here, then, is a breakdown of the players:
Cory Blair
, Belmont Shore, Prop, Hooker, Center, Wing. Blair was not overly impressive with the USA team in May, but he has put in much work and his play at the national club championships was very solid. His size, speed and skill make him very versatile.

Matt Byrd, Prop, Hooker, Wing. Byrd was in the mix for the team until injured and it’s taken him the better part of a year to really get back into playing shape. He needed to have a good all-star championships to get an invitation, and he did.

Ben Haapapura, Denver Barbarians, Prop. A new player to a USA 7s camp, he will be expected to bring a high work rate and physicality.

Keikio Misipeka, Pearl City, Prop, Hooker. Misipeka brings the added dimension of pace to the forwards. Caravelli likes to have a mix of speed and brawn there.

Brian Naqica, Aspen, Prop, Hooker. Bigger than his brother Jone he is very physical.

Leonard Peters, Aspen, Prop, Hooker, Wing. Peters is nursing a slight injury and will be evaluated by Dr. David Chao, the San Diego Chargers doctor who also helps the USA 7s team out. Dr. Chao simply gets a kick out of helping the rugby players. Peters can be explosive, and will be more so the more comfortable he gets playing rugby.

Mark Roberts, Chicago Lions, Prop, Hooker, Wing. Another example of a player who is big enough to play as a 7s forward, and quick enough to handle wing. Perhaps his next goal is to be good enough to play the enormously demanding defense of center.

Dallas Robinson, Prop, Hooker, Wing. Once upon a time he was just a wing, but has learned more about the game. Coming back off injury he has yet to appear for the USA, but remains big, strong, and very, very fast.

Peter Sio, Prop, Hooker, Center. Was superb at the national club 7s championships. Just read the game so well.

Grant Thorne, Prop, Hooker. A late addition, the Belmont Shore 7s player (XVs with Santa Monica) has much to prove.

Kevin Wiggins, Wilmington, Prop, Hooker. Never say never. Wiggins seemed out of the USA radar until he went to New Zealand, lost weight, and worked on his fitness. Almost a new player now.

Fred Wintermantel, NOVA, Prop. A little older than most for their first USA invite, but Wintermantel is smart, makes his tackles, and has the skills. His play at the club and all-star nationals was high-percentage and inspiring. Can he be an Eagle? He’s earned the chance to answer that himself.

Marco Barnard, Kutztown University, Hooker, Prop, Scrumhalf, Center, waterboy, bus driver. OK, we’re getting carried away. But Barnard is hugely versatile. He has an excellent scrumhalf pass, sidesteps brilliantly, and is strong enough to handle the scrums. Was outstanding for the 7s team in Scotland.

Ben Catania, Daytona, Hooker, Prop. Another player who mixes the rough stuff with some pace and ball skills.

Elliott Rechtin, Old Blue, Hooker, Prop, Scrumhalf. Like Wintermantel, a guy who does not make mistakes and makes smart decisions.

Trevor Richards, University of Nebraska Hooker, Prop, Center. An accomplished high school football player who didn’t quite make the University of Nebraska football team. Born in South Africa, but in the USA since he was young, he is 6-0, 220 and scored very high on fitness tests.

PJ Komongnan, NOVA, Scrumhalf, Wing. Boy he can run. He’s becoming smarter and a better defender each day.

Ata Malifa, Belmont Shore, Scrumhalf, Flyhalf. Very calm under pressure.

Shalom Suniula, Scrumhalf, Flyhalf. He’s got good acceleration and defends well. Is it worth bring him in all the way from Australia? For now, yes.

Valenese Malifa, Belmont Shore, Flyhalf, Scrumhalf. Just a shade snappier than his brother, but you wonder if both will make the team.

Iopu Sanonu, Belmont Shore, Flyhalf, Scrumhalf. Directed the attack for Belmont Shore at the national club championships (neither Malifa was there).

Jone Naqica, SFGG, Flyhalf, Center. The emotional center of the team. Quiet, always smiling, but a leader.

Suli Nahou Unaloto, Mission, Center, Hooker, Prop. Very young, lots to learn, but much to offer. A legit territorial all-star at 20? Yes, Caravelli should take him just to look at him.

Mile Pulu, SFGG, Center, Hooker, Prop. Not that long ago he was that deer-caught-in-headlights young guy hoping to break into prominence (as is Suli). His play has matured, Now he finds out just how hart it is.

Kevin Swiryn, OPSB, Center, Prop, Hooker, Wing. Well we know he can do pretty much everything. Had an outstanding season in ‘08-‘09 despite not being expected to know anything. As close to a lock on the 7s team as anyone.

Dimitri Efthimiou, Mystic River, Wing. Very young (see how ERN touted Efthimiou here). Like Suli, he is there as a project for the future.

Jonathan Pratter, Belmont Shore, Wing. Has come back from injury and looked very good at NASC. Like Dallas Robinson, Pratter is one of those crossover athletes who hasn’t played a great deal. More than Robinson, but still not much.

Mike Nelson, Central Washington University, Wing, Hooker, Prop. Like Wintermantel, was just exceptionally solid at all-stars. He rarely misses a tackle, and while not spectacular, kind of brings  a James Gillenwater-ness to the team.

Alex Ross, San Diego Sate, Wing, Hooker. Got a lot to offer, but it’s worth noting he did not make the World Games team. Perhaps a message?

Eric Walton, Aspen, Wing. Very quick. Solidly-built, short but powerful outside back, Walton showed quite the finishing touch.

Clint Whittler, Belmont Shore, Wing. It’s been a while since he’s been healthy and really ready to play. Now he is, and that’s good news.



- Alex Goff

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