Our latest edition of 30 Tickets to Japan is out. Earlier today we looked at prop and hooker and now we look at lock and back-row. For those that aren't aware this is an series of pieces that predicts who would be on the Eagles roster at the World Cup if it started today (there are actually 31 spots with an extra spot for a front-row player). Almost certainly things will change between now and 2019 and you can bet that some new players are going to come out of the woodwork and state their case.
Lock Pool: Samu Manoa, Greg Peterson, Nick Civetta, Nate Brakeley, Matt Jensen, Siaosi Mahoni, James King, Ben Landry, Christian Ostberg, Cam Dolan, David Tameilau, Todd Clever
Lock is complicated. After not having many options a year ago head coach John Mitchell has a lot of options now. Nick Civetta and Nate Brakeley were the obvious favorites during the ARC and they've developed quite a rapport with one another. However, they may not even be starters when Mitchell has his first team. Why? You have Samu Manoa and Greg Peterson. When healthy and available it is extremely hard to not see either Manoa or Peterson start. They both have so much experience and the little tools needed by any team. Still, if you are Mitchell it is awesome to know that have Civetta and Brakeley on the bench or could reliably start either one if needed.
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Mitchell also has more options if he decides to play some back-row players in the locks. Cam Dolan, David Tameilau, and Todd Clever can all play there. Outside of those players there are still options. James King could make his way on to the team while Siaosi Mahoni and Matt Jensen did well at the ARC. However, they may be prospects for the future.
Back-row Pool: Tony Lamborn, Andrew Durutalo, Cam Dolan, John Quill, David Tameilau, Danny Barrett, Ben Pinkelman, Todd Clever, Samu Manoa, Langilangi Haupeakui, Al McFarland, Hanco Germishuys, Malon Al-Jiboori, Garrett Bender, Harry Higgins, Alex Gletzer, Aladdin Schirmer, Sione Tuihalamaka
Back-row is a position flooded with players. Think about this: as good as he's played there may not be room on the roster for Todd Clever. Some of it depends on what is down with the locks but right now are top three on the back-row include Tony Lamborn and Andrew Durutalo as the flankers with Cam Dolan as the number eight. Behind them you have the likes of David Tameilau, Danny Barrett, Ben Pinkelman, John Quill, Todd Clever, Langilangi Haupeakui, and Al McFarland. How do you pick among that group?
For us, David Tameilau has done more than enough to have a place on the team. He is playing some good rugby at the moment and could easily start. He had a strong ARC as well. Another player that boosted his stock during the ARC was John Quill. On several occasions he could have been man of the match. Time and time again he's proved that he can contribute.
One of the big questions is how much the 7s players will be involved. If they are both Durutalo and Barrett could be starters and should be on the roster regardless. Then you have Clever, Haupeakui, and McFarland. Clever has been a good servant to U.S.A. Rugby but there have to be questions at this point of whether he can contribute at the World Cup. It's possible but if a player like Haupeakui can get regular playing time he might push Clever out. A Ben Pinkelman could also push him out. We think he's going to be a big, big contributor at the World Cup it's just a question of when he makes a 15s push.
Even behind these players you have a solid group that could come forth. The U.S. is blessed with a lot of athleticism at this position and a year of PRO Rugby brought some new players to the surface.
At the end of the day given the flexibility of players like Dolan, Manoa, and Tameilau the Eagles will probably carry only three locks.
Lock: Greg Peterson (starter), Samu Manoa (starter), Nick Civetta
Back-row: Tony Lamborn (starter), Andrew Durutalo (starter), Cam Dolan (starter), John Quill, David Tameilau, Danny Barrett, Ben Pinkelman (World Cup), Todd Clever (summer series)