BOULDER, Colo. – Having sustained an injury in the Men’s Eagles’ 34-3 win against Romania last November, Paul Emerick has been preparing for the busy summer schedule after surgery. He has missed out on the second half of the Aviva Premiership season with London Wasps, who signed him last February, and will miss the Eagles’ test match against Ireland at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, Texas, June 8 (buy tickets here).
Emerick should be ready to go for August, however, when the Eagles begin their 2015 Rugby World Cup qualifying campaign against Canada at Blackbaud Stadium in Charleston, S.C., August 17. The Eagles defeated Canada 12-6 in Charleston in 2009 and will hope for a similar outcome in August.
“Right now, it’s pretty slow just trying to get mobility back in my ankle,” he said. “I’ll be able to start strengthening it soon, like weight-bearing exercises, squats – stuff like that.
“The last ten years of my career – training and playing rugby – I’ve been very fortunate. When that’s your routine for ten years and you take away the routine, you need to find something else to occupy yourself.”
Emerick was also out of action due to injury after the 2011 Rugby World Cup, but the recent injury has sidelined him for the longest amount of time in his career. He has used some of that time to support his Eagles teammates playing across the globe.
Eagles captain Todd Clever in Japan, Chris Wyles in England and Takudzwa Ngwenya in France are just a few of the international Eagles who have a new biggest fan in Emerick.
“I’m happy for them,” Emerick said. “But it makes me want to play. I read this quote somewhere: ‘Absence makes weak passions dwindle and other passions stronger, just like the wind blows out a candle and starts a fire.’ Being away from it and not having any type of relation to playing right now has definitely made me want to be back involved, and involved with rugby.”
A former Men’s Eagles Sevens player, Emerick has also been paying attention to the Eagles on the IRB HSBC Sevens World Series. The Eagles have one round left, in London, before the Rugby World Cup Sevens in Moscow this June. The Rugby World Cup Sevens will have a major impact on the Eagles’ Olympics chances.
Emerick, 33, will be 36 by the time the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro start in 2016. Though he would not decline a spot on Sevens Head Coach Alex Magleby’s Olympic squad if asked, Emerick is hopeful for younger players to step up and push him out of contention.
“At that age, if I’m still in the running for the team, then I’ll play,” he said. “But hopefully it shouldn’t come to that. With another three years to go until the Olympics, I think there should be some 22- or 23-year-old who’s going to use those three years to develop. I should just be old and slow.”
Clever also has a history with the Men’s Eagles Sevens, and Emerick believes his captain could still play competitive rugby on the international stage in 2016 at the age of 33.
“It just depends on how well Todd’s body holds up,” he said. “He could very well be on the Olympic team. I can’t speak for him, but I was playing test matches and high-level rugby last year at 32, 33. That’s not out of the question.”
The main focus for Emerick now is being ready for the August match against Canada, though he is still excited for the Eagles’ schedule in the Pacific Nations Cup and the Ireland test. The Eagles will play five full tests before the end of June, two more than during the same period last year.
Men’s Eagles Head Coach Mike Tolkin, appointed in February 2012, led the Eagles to their first test series win on their Fall Tour, defeating Romania and Russia and only losing once for a 2-1 record. In six matches with Tolkin at the helm, the Eagles have scored 20 tries, compared to the 41 tries they scored in three years under Eddie O’Sullivan.
“Tolks is very good at making a game plan for the players we have,” Emerick said. “Since he’s been involved, we’ve had much more of a license to play. With Eddie O, it was very structured. We need that, but not to the point where it restricts us from our options. It’s that balance of having that structure, yet a license to play what you see and to have that freedom, that creativity. Tolks is getting that balance right.
“In the last Rugby World Cup, we scored the least amount of tries. We had one win, but there were teams with zero wins who scored more tries than we did. Winning’s great, but I want to play and see some open, flowing rugby that’s creative and adventurous; risk-taking, within reason.”
With the series win in November fresh in their minds, the Eagles will look forward to their first summer match against Canada May 25 in Edmonton in the Pacific Nations Cup with Spring Camp in Denver, Colo., the week prior.
Ireland will serve as a break between Pacific Nations Cup matches, as the Eagles will host Tonga at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., the week after the match in Houston. They will then travel to Japan for the final two matches of the Pacific Nations Cup against Fiji and Japan.
“We have an interesting mix of test matches,” Emerick said. “All of our Pacific Nations Cup games are winnable games. With the IRB rankings, points and wins become important. It’s a good chance for us to jump up in the rankings.
“Say we play an Australia or England or Ireland – beating those types of nations would be the upset of the century in most peoples’ eyes. Giving us games that are similar in development and ranking as us is good. We can win those games and gain some confidence. We still have the match against Ireland, which will be a good measuring stick. We’ve improved, but we still have a ways to go to the top.”