In anticipation of the World Cup qualifiers, the backrow combination of Samu Manoa, Scott Lavalla, and Todd Clever has been described as the 'arguably the strongest in the history of the US'.
All of the trio have won elite pro contracts, validating their individual merits relative to the other players Northampton (Manoa), Stade Francais (Lavalla), and NTT Communications (Clever) could hire. This indeed suggests the makings of an excellent loose forward unit.
What other criteria figure in making such a claim?
One is their collective performance for the United States. The opposition's gameplan seeks to exploit weaknesses and tendencies. The combined skills and inter-player dynamics of an outstanding unit make it more than the sum of its parts, neutralizing the opponent's intentions. Such cohesion is normally a product of playing together. The Manoa-Lavalla-Clever trio has started but 1 match.
Another factor is team results. The yardsticks are victory, then consistency. June's 15-12 loss to shadow Ireland is a hopeful beginning. One way to measure the long-term performance of Manoa-Lavalla-Clever is the USA's International Rugby Board ranking, which retreated to 18th place after the Pacific Nations tournament. The only way to move up is to win. Another is the outcome of key contests, such as this month's RWC qualifiers.
A third objective is team leadership. Now that the trio looks to be in place, will the national XV coalesce around the backrow? The question goes beyond game day. To lead America, overseas players must demonstrate willingness to put aside the interests of their paycheck clubs -- playing professionally is a means to the end -- and also their ability to connect with and help domestic-based teammates. The question is particularly relevant to Manoa, whose past interest in leaving Northampton has been tepid.
In revisiting notable US backrows, it's interesting to note that standout combinations coalesced prior to World Cup years, playing 5-10 matches together before the quadrennial championship. Additionally, there were sometimes 4 or 5 players trading places (due to form, injury, etc.). Here are some others worth considering:
- Lou Stanfill-Todd Clever-Nick Johnson 2009-11
- Kort Schubert-Dave Hodges-Dan Lyle 2001-03
- Dave Hodges-Richard Tardits-Dan Lyle 1999
(with Rob Lumkong and Tasi Mo'unga 1994-99)
- Blaine Warhurst-Gary Lambert-Brian Vizard 1987
(with Whit Everett and Mark Deaton 1984-87)