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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

In Praise Of Chris Wyles

We've said it many times before and we'll almost certainly say it many times again until someone takes his place: Chris Wyles is the greatest Eagle of all-time. That's saying something given the fantastic players that have played for the Eagles, including teammates Mike Petri, Lou Stanfill, Todd Clever, and Paul Emerick, Dan Lyle, Mike MacDonald, Mike Hercus, Vaea Anitoni, Kevin Swords, Dave Hodges, Mike Purcell, and a whole host of names we are probably overlooking. Wyles is the consummate professional and during an era in which the Eagles were playing ever more matches at a high level it was Wyles and his leadership that helped pull the team through.

No matter how difficult the conditions or how good Wyles was the same. It's that type of consistency that coaches love. No matter if it was Eddie O'Sullivan, Mike Tolkin, or any of his coaches at Saracens Wyles consistently finds or found himself in the line-up thanks to his hard work and relentless attitude. Additionally, Wyles has been a leader that other players can rally around and given the number of domestic players in the Eagles line-ups over the years that is invaluable.

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Wyles has had a fantastic international career. He's currently ninth in all-time caps with 54, including 51 starts. With over 50 starts he joins an exclusive club with only Alex Parker, Luke Gross, Todd Clever, and Mike MacDonald joining him. Wyles is third on the all time try list with 16, just one in back of Paul Emerick and three ahead of Taku Ngwenya. He's also third in overall points with 222 thanks to his stint as kicker over most of the last cycle.  As he departs he leaves an enormous gap, but also an opportunity, for a young player to fill.

Most telling from Wyles's point total is the number of points he was able to put up as a kicker. After the retirement of Mike Hercus the Eagles struggled to find consistent kicking. They tried a number of players, including center Andrew Suniula, but could never find a right fit. Knowing that the team needed help Wyles put in a lot of unseen hours at Saracens and with the Eagles working on his kicking. By the 2011 World Cup and afterward Wyles gave the Eagles a consistent kicker that helped them win games. While he didn't have the range of someone like AJ MacGinty who would eventually take over the kicking duties, he did help the Eagles put themselves in a position where they could confidently go for points and not take unnecessary risks. His efforts were that of a teammate willing to do anything for the squad.

Another example of when the class of Wyles showed through was in the summer 2013. The Eagles were rebuilding after the World Cup and were putting together the nucleus of what became the 2015 World Cup team. The Eagles went 0-5 in the Pacific Nations Cup and were only in a couple of their matches. Then came World Cup qualifying where they were beaten solidly by Canada in the first match. However, in the second match the Eagles came within two points of winning ending the summer on a positive note. That would set them up for a successful fall tour and a much better 2014.

Throughout the difficult summer was the consistent play of Wyles. Time in and time out Wyles put forth his hardest effort. After each match he was frustrated at the losses but encouraging of his teammates. Even in disappointment he was always challenging his team to be better and looking at the positive. That was exactly what the Eagles needed at the time to stay confident ahead of 2015.

There is no question that Wyles still has many more good years left in him. He has more championships to win with Saracens. Still, when he's done he's somebody that U.S.A. Rugby and the rugby community in America should make special effort to include. He's proven over and over that he makes people better and that he cares about the game in the States. He's given everything for the Eagles and they've rewarded him. It's been a privilege to watch him over the years. 

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