BOULDER, Colo. – It has been nearly three months since the Men's Eagles' 34-3 win against Romania in Bucharest, which marked the end of the 2012 Fall Tour. The test series win was the first for the Eagles in over a decade and saw them finishing with a 2-1 record, losing 13-22 against Tonga and winning 40-26 over Russia.
After the Romania match Head Coach Mike Tolkin said that he expected their schedule to "really pick up in May." With the announcement of the Eagles' inclusion in the 2013 IRB Pacific Nations Cup, Tolkin and his team will use these matches to prepare for the 2015 Rugby World Cup qualifiers. .
"It gives us a chance to play more high-level games," Tolkin said of the Pacific Nations Cup. "It's a good opportunity for us. It's going to be challenging, but it will be good for us."
As of February 11, Tonga, Fiji, Canada and Japan are ranked 12-15 in the IRB World Rankings, respectively. The Eagles are follow just behind at 16.
Tolkin's Eagles open the Pacific Nations Cup against Canada north of the border on May 24, before their only home fixture of the competition against Tonga on June 14. The venue for the Tonga match is to be determined.
"Certainly there is an extra incentive when playing against a border rival like Canada," Tolkin said. "But, for us, our outlook is going to be smart--we have to play intelligent ball, not get too hyper about the rivalry. That dies very shortly after the whistle blows when playing rugby, and if it doesn't, that's going to affect the game."
Between the Canada and Tonga matches, the Eagles will host Ireland at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, Texas. Tolkin hopes the match against Ireland, who is currently fourth in Six Nations competition, will be a showcase for rugby in America after the success of the recent Men's Sevens World Series held in Las Vegas and the Women's Sevens World Series in Houston.
"Last year was phenomenal," Tolkin said. "The Houston community does a good job of advertising and attracting the local rugby crowd. We're hoping for a sellout."
With Ireland in the Six Nations and numerous Eagles currently abroad, Tolkin knows his players are keeping an eye on the results.
"All of the guys who are overseas know what's going on with the Six Nations. We certainly have to keep an eye on what Ireland A are doing as well, since they have the A-Level Six Nations tournament. No doubt we'll see some of those guys involved in the Ireland squad this summer, too," said Tolkin.
As for picking his own squad for the upcoming matches, Tolkin is busy following his players around the world until they convene in April.
"It can definitely be a challenge," he said regarding tracking the performances of more than 30 players. "Luckily, we get a number of Aviva Premiership games here on television, so that makes it easy. Then we have guys who send me video tape, and for the domestic guys I'll go watch games.
"The Spring Camp is a good way for the domestic guys to get their high performance workout after the season and leading into the summer. It's two-fold: It's getting the guys who have been in the squad already a good high performance camps, and it's giving the up-and-comers a good look in the high performance environment."
Tolkin has plenty of options when it comes to picking players. Team Captain Todd Clever, who finished his season with NTT Communications Shining Arcs in Japan's Top League competition in January, is an obvious selection. However, choosing an entire team to represent the Eagles is not always as simple.
"There's no set formula," Tolkin said. "If you had a good Eagles performance coming out of November, you're in a strong position to make the squad again. We have a couple of players coming off of injuries. The only player that might be out long-term is Paul Emerick."
The Eagles will gather for the first time since their Fall Tour this coming April, and again in May to prepare for the season. Locations and specific dates are still to be determined.
It will not be long before the Eagles start their qualification run for the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England. With the Pacific Nations Cup beginning in May, a mouth-watering matchup with Ireland in Houston in June, and other unannounced test matches to be hosted stateside, Tolkin and the Eagles will not be caught off guard.
Spring Camp - April 27-30th, Location TBD
Spring Camp - May 17-23, Denver, CO
Eagles vs. Canada (Pacific Nations Cup) - May 25th, Edmonton, Canada
Eagles Camp (Denver/Houston) - May 26th - June 7th
Eagles vs. Ireland (Test Match) - June 8th, Houston, TX
Tonga Prep-Camp - June 9-15th, Location TBD
Eagles vs. Tonga (Pacific Nations Cup) - June 15th, Location TBD
Eagles vs. Fiji (Pacific Nations Cup) - June 19th, Japan
Eagles vs. Japan (Pacific Nations Cup) - June 23rd, Japan