Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Overseas Pros Key In Victory Over Scotland

There were a multitude of factors that played into the Eagles win over Scotland last Saturday. We could do a whole series of articles on those reasons but for now we are going to point out one: overseas professionals. It has been noted that the entire Eagles roster on Saturday was made up of professional players either those that are playing overseas or in MLR. Of the starting line-up eight players ply their trade overseas while seven play in MLR. Having every player in a professional environment is important.

So what is the difference between being an overseas professional and one that plays domestically? Sometimes it is not a lot. It can come down to whether or not a player has a European or Pacific Island passport in addition to American citizenship. Sometimes it comes down to teams having only so many international spots and it is sometimes easier to assume (sometimes falsely) that you are getting a better player if you bring in a Kiwi. There are a lot of reasons.

Still, putting all of the clerical reasons aside the impact of having players play overseas and MLR is different. For now, the quality of competition in Europe or in the Southern Hemisphere is simply stronger. Week in and week out players like Blaine Scully and AJ MacGinty are tested more by terrific opponents. Even in the RFU Championship or the Pro D2 players are going to be challenged by world-class players every week.

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MLR will get there eventually and we have already seen payoffs from the increased competition it brings but for now there is little question that having a player like Nick Civetta get time for Doncaster or for a player like Will Hooley to play for Bedford is giving them a level of competition to test themselves that they wouldn't get if they played in MLR.

Another major difference of playing overseas is that you are in a full-time training environment. MLR is getting that way and in a few years time we are going to see a major difference. For now, the fact that a Civetta, a Chris Baumann, and a Joe Taufete'e are training everyday and getting high-level coaching is making them better. European and Southern Hemisphere teams have big staffs that can work with individual hookers or backs. That makes a big difference.

Additionally, no place is secure in Europe. There is a hunger that comes with knowing that following a few bad appearances you may be out of a job. Of the players that started on Saturday only Blaine Scully, Will Hooley, and AJ MacGinty are near automatic selections for their teams and even they have come off the bench at times. Every other player in Europe is either on the bench or fighting for time in 'A' League games. That creates a hunger. Look at how much Civetta has improved by having to work for his spot. The same goes for the likes of Taufete'e, Eric Fry, and Titi Lamositele. The same can't exactly be said of MLR right now. There are few, if any, players that played on Saturday that would not be considered automatic starters for their MLR teams. That's not a bad thing but it doesn't create the same hunger.

This is not to bash MLR at all. In fact, it is the exact opposite. MLR (and the on-field product that PRO Rugby produced) has been a huge factor in the Eagles current run of form. Players are getting training and they are improving. It should be no surprise that players like Bryce Campbell and Ben Landry have earned a place overseas thanks to their play in MLR. The league has also given players like Shaun Davies, Nate Augspurger, and Will Magie a chance to get good playing time at key positions. One day MLR is going to allow players to get the same benefits they get overseas but at home.

All that said, there is something to be said for having as many American players get professional time overseas. It has clearly provided benefits. As the team heads into the World Cup the more players they can get into full-time training environments the better off they are going to be. Now having knocked off Scotland more professional teams overseas might start to pay attention.

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