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Friday, September 7, 2012

Tolkin Discusses ARC, Players in Europe, Elite Cup, & More

We were lucky enough to have U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Mike Tolkin take a few minutes out of his schedule this week to talk to us about the upcoming Americas Rugby Championship, the plight of recent graduates, why Taku Ngwenya and Samu Manoa missed last summer’s matches, the new Elite Cup, and potential overseas Americans like Tommy Seymour and Callum Black. It was really refreshing to hear what coach Tolkin had to saw. He definitely has the program on the right track.

Take a look at the interview after the jump and share your thoughts.

This Is American Rugby: What kind of team are you looking to take to the Americas Rugby Championship (ARC)?

Mike Tolkin: It will be guys that have been on the Eagles radar, have previously been invited to preseason camp, but did not make the team, as well as a couple of players that did make the roster but did not get much playing time. There will also be some College All-Americans. Some of the All-Americans we wanted to invite were unavailable due to school commitments. Also, the squad will have a couple of players that have just emerged to us. Most of the players are going to be young guys that have recently graduated or are players in their early 20’s playing club rugby.

TIAR: Are any of the players on the squad from overseas?

MT: The ARC is all domestic players so we don’t have anyone coming in from overseas. There are a couple of players that have moved here to play or returned to the States on their own from overseas.

TIAR: When is the team going to assemble? Where?

MT: We are going to meet on October 5th and train in San Francisco before taking off to Victoria.

TIAR: Any there any scrimmages planned in preparation for the tournament?

MT: Not a full-on scrimmage but maybe we’ll play a half-game against a local side. We have our first game on the 13th and we don’t want to overwork our players.

TIAR: Does the National Team direct recent graduates to certain clubs? Or is it an individual choice?

MT: We’ve tried to develop pathways for the U-18, U-30, and College All-Americans, but there is still a gap after a player graduates from college. In the past we’ve had the NASC and we’d like to set up something similar to that where our top 50 or 100 prospects get together and play a tournament in front of the selectors. We have a plan we’re working on to try and get something like that into play, but in the meantime, we try to point our players to top teams. We try to get them on Super League teams if we can, or if there is a really strong DI team like Glendale or Belmont Shore where the setup is good, can train properly, have good coaching, and play successful games.

TIAR: Why did Zee Ngwenya miss last summer’s assembly?

MT: He had been going strong for two years and his club felt that he needed some rest.

TIAR: Why did Samu Manoa miss last summer’s assembly?

MT: Samu was in a similar situation where his club felt he needed some time off but it was mainly personal reasons that kept him from appearing for the team. He’s definitely a guy we’d like to have on our squad.

TIAR: Do you expect to invite both of them to the Autumn tour?

MT: Yes. Depending on their circumstances.

TIAR: Will Toby L’Estrange be a player you are looking at for the ARC?

MT: No, only because he’ll just be finishing his recovery in early October. He will be available in November.

TIAR: He can play all over the backline, what position do you see him playing for the Eagles?

MT: He would be a flyhalf. He has the capability to play several positions but in our set up he would be a flyhalf.

TIAR: How much have you been in contact with players like Tommy Seymour, Callum Black, and Marcel Brache, to see if there would be interest in playing for the Eagles? Or do you wait for them to approach you?

MT: We’re pretty proactive in that regard. I’ve been in contact with Tommy’s coach to get some reports on how he’s doing and he’s definitely on our radar as someone who could be approached soon. We would definitely take the first step. If we found out about a player and we felt he’s someone who might be good in our setup, we’ll make contact with that player. Callum is another guy we are certainly looking into and considering for our fall tour. Both Tommy and Callum have situations where if they play for America they can’t represent Scotland or Ireland. They also complicate their pro contracts by counting as an Eagle rather than one eligible for Ireland or Scotland. Those are tricky situations but they are definitely on our radar.

TIAR: You as a coach want to encourage players to get more playing time, especially in good leagues overseas, but how do you deal with the visa restrictions that exist in Europe?

MT: It’s frustrating, and it’s getting more and more frustrating. Our guys are getting shut out while at the same time these are the competitions we need our guys to be in. Just look at basketball in the Olympics. Those countries are getting better and better because they have players in the NBA. That’s what we need. I think that eventually the clubs in Europe are going to fight back against the unions because having better athletes and a better competition makes more money for them. We have to do a lot of probing and thinking outside the box to send guys down to New Zealand or Australia. One thing that guys can do to counter these restrictions is to make themselves stand out in international play. Luke Hume was a guy that really stood out, and I thought he would get more of a look. Racing Metro looked at him a bit, but they didn’t give him a contract. Players are going to have to stand out or they are going to have to start at the bottom in the RFU Championship or something like that and work their way up.

TIAR: What is your relationship like with Alex Magleby and how do you coordinate players?

MT: Alex and I have known each other for a long time, so we have a pretty good relationship. We talk about these kinds of situations (the overlapping schedule of the ARC and the Gold Coast IRB stop). We’re definitely trying to work together. I think it’s going to become increasingly more difficult to go back and forth with players like we’ve done because there is lot more time spent with 7’s now, but we work well and we talk. Ultimately it’s going to come down to a player’s decision. For the moment we work together well on future selections and situations, but down the road I can see a couple of tricky situations where we’ll both want a player for an assembly. We’ll have to see what happens at that time.

TIAR: How is the new Elite Cup going to impact the National Team?

MT: Some of the teams that play in the Elite Cup and DI will get a pretty full schedule but for the teams that aren’t going to play DI, they’re really going to have to work to compliment their schedule, whether it be a tour to Canada or something else outside the box. We need our guys playing a lot and we can’t have guys going into a really competitive summer schedule with only six games under their belt. It just doesn’t do the job.


  1. These interviews are fantastic Curt, thank you so much. When asking about overseas players who were eligible, you specifically mentioned Brache, but Tolkin didn't address him in the response. Any idea why?

  2. I have a terrible feeling Manoa won't be putting on the Eagles jersey anytime soon.

    1. That's not the sense I got talking to coach Tolkin. It sounded like Samu would have joined the tour if he didn't have some personal things standing in the way.