Chris Wyles will captain the USA in the four-match World Rugby Pacific Nations Cup as the Eagles prepare for Rugby World Cup 2015 in England. Wyles, who won the Aviva Premiership with Saracens and helped the Men’s Eagles Sevens qualify for the Rio 2016 Olympic Summer Games in a two-week span, will assume the captaincy role beginning with the team’s assembly in northern California. The Eagles will play Samoa in San Jose on July 18th before taking on Japan in Sacramento on July 24th.
Both opponents are in Pool B with the US at the World Cup. Head coach Mike Tolkin says: ‘Chris has been one of the most respected and successful Eagles of all time and has been a selfless and proud Eagle for nearly a decade. His success as a professional player with Saracens, matched with the respect that he has garnered with his teammates throughout his career, makes him a natural choice as captain.’ Wyles will succeed Todd Clever, the team’s longest-serving captain in history after embracing the role post-World Cup 2007. After seeing out his contract with NTT Shining Arcs in Japan’s Top League last fall, Clever returned to his home state of California to play with Old Mission Beach Athletic Club.
Blaine Scully will serve as vice captain of the Eagles. Tolkin says: ‘Todd has always looked out for the well being of the squad throughout his tenure as captain and has been an exemplary player on the field before and during his captaincy. Though he may no longer be serving as captain, Todd will continue to wear the jersey with pride and play the game with passion on the field. Blaine’s strong work ethic and athletic abilities have made him a successful international player and a leader among the squad.’ Of the 32 players selected to the Pacific Nations Cup squad, 15 plied their trade professionally overseas during the 2014-15 competitive season.
Twelve members of the squad travelled to South America for a three-match tour with the USA Rugby Selects, including uncapped selections Chris Baumann, Niku Kruger, Al McFarland, and AJ MacGinty. Having helped the Americans qualify for Rio, Danny Barrett, Folau Niua, Zack Test, and Brett Thompson will represent the Residency program at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista in the Pacific Nations Cup squad. The Eagles are coming off of an exciting fall that began with a sold-out match against the New Zealand All Blacks at Soldier Field.
Though professionals such as Samu Manoa, Scully, and Wyles were released from club duty prior to World Rugby’s fall Regulation 9 window to play in Chicago, most were unavailable for the matches in Europe against Romania, Tonga, and Fiji, and have not been in an assembly since. In all, the Eagles will be able to gain cohesion and work on the coaching staff’s game plan across seven matches and eight weeks of assembly time before kicking off their World Cup campaign September 20. Tolkin says: ‘It’s all a process and this part of the process is getting guys back into match fitness and trying the things we want to try ahead of the World Cup, testing them. We reviewed the things we started in South America; we pulled all the good stuff out and we want to keep working on that. For us it’s getting guys game time, getting them back in shape, and whoever comes out at the end of the round are guys who are putting their best foot forward to move on into starting roles at the World Cup.’
Following the first two Pacific Nations Cup match days, the Eagles will head north of the border for a match against Tonga in Toronto July 29 prior to Finals Day in Burnaby, British Columbia on August 3rd. Tickets are still available for the international doubleheaders at Avaya Stadium and Bonney Field, with Canada and Fiji also scheduled for tests in the Golden State. Broadcast details for the first two rounds of the Pacific Nations Cup will be announced at a later date.