The Matt Hawkins era gets rolling at this weekend's Gold Coast 7s, the start of the 2013-14 7s World Series.
USARFU's decision to tap an athlete to succeed Alex Magleby is unusual and fraught. Hawkins is one of nine new mentors this season, but the 7s World Series' first player-coach since 2006.
In addition to the obvious difficulties of competing while also shaping the team, the 30-year-old faces the annual pressure of finishing among the world circuit's top
12 15, while Olympic qualifying is in sight.
The 7s Eagles historically start slowly, a pattern uninterrupted by stationing a full-time squad in San Diego. Should the trend persist, Boulder's intention to be patient with Hawkins, who has primarily worked with San Diego-area school teams as well as in the Serevi organization, could run up against the millions of dollars attached to performance milestones in the two 7s competitions.
Chief executive Nigel Melville has been spending ample time at the Olympic Training Center, according to people familar with the matter.
Another new facet for the 7s program is the fall's four-tournament development schedule, essentially playing time for the second string, comprising tournaments in the Fiji, the Caribbean, and South Africa. Last week at the Fiji Water Centennial 7s, the US dropped contests to Argentina and France as well as a local all-star side, while downing another Fijian entrant.
Several regulars from the 2012-13 7s Eagles, which at season's end stormed to three consecutive plate finals, have moved on: Colin Hawley, Luke Hume, and Blaine Scully. 7s All-Americans Pat Blair, Ryan Matyas, and Stephen Tomasin, each of whom recently moved to the San Diego area, could make their 7s World debuts in Australia. The US opens against New Zealand, and also faces Kenya and Tonga.
In Vancouver, Mike Tolkin taps 6 uncapped players in the starting lineup to face Argentina's Jaguars in the opening match of the Americas Rugby Championship.
The large number of internationals, in combination with such veteran players as wings Mark Roberts and Ed Mills, aged 29 and 28 respectively, gives the XV a 'win now' character. The shadow Eagles were 0-3 at last year's tournament, while the senior side has not won a game in 2013.
USA to Gold Coast 7s
Pat Blair (Central Washington Univ.), Miles Craigwell (Old Puget Sound Beach), Nick Edwards (undeclared), Tai Enosa (undeclared), Jack Halalilo (East Palo Alto), Matt Hawkins (USARFU), Carlin Isles (USARFU), Ryan Matyas (Univ. of Arizona), Folau Niua (USARFU), Zack Test (USARFU), Brett Thompson (USARFU), Stephen Tomasin (San Diego State)
USA A v Argentina Jaguars
Adam Siddal (Old Blue); Mark Roberts (Chicago Lions), Chris Chapman (New York AC), Milemoto Pulu (San Francisco Golden Gate), Ed Mills (Kansas City Blues); Toby L'Estrange (New York AC), Shaun Davies (Glendale); Titi Lamositele (Saracens), Phil Thiel (Life Univ.), Shawn Pittman (Old Puget Sound Beach), Graham Harriman (Metropolis), William Haydock (Old Puget Sound Beach), Dan Barrett (San Francisco Golden Gate), Liam Murphy (Boston), Cam Dolan (captain, Life Univ.)
Reserves: Cameron Falcon (New Orleans), Nick Wallace (Olympic Club), Chris Sullivan (Life Univ.), Tai Tuisamoa (OMBAC), Derek Asbun (Univ. of Cape Town); Chris Saint (Houston), Peter Moala (undeclared), Tim Maupin (undeclared)