Palamo buoyed by USA’s growing rugby intelligence

Palamo buoyed by USA’s growing rugby intelligence

Written by Nick Heath for Rugby World Cup News Service

By rights, Thretton Palamo should be playing in his fourth World Cup if he comes off the bench against France on Wednesday. But it will only be his third.

He succumbed to a fit of common sense before Rugby World Cup 2011 and missed the tournament in New Zealand after accepting a college scholarship to play American football and complete his education.

“It’s obviously a privilege to get that opportunity and do four, it’s just that another opportunity arose at that time so I got my education in,” he said.

“I think all athletes are always worried about what’s coming next. That’s usually the No.1 topic around coffee – what are we doing after rugby? I’ve got my degree now, so I kind of have a little bit of ease in my mind.”

USA centre Palamo was the youngest player at Rugby World Cup 2007 in France. He is one of just 15 players from that tournament who have made it to Japan 12 years later.

Palamo was 19 when he played in the USA’s first RWC 2007 match against South Africa, which the Eagles lost 64-15. He has just turned 31 and says understanding of the game has grown in the USA side over the years.

“I grew up knowing the game from watching it, so in 2007 it was a little weird seeing a lot of my team-mates who were a little unsure of the rules,” he said.

“That plays a huge part in the game because your reaction time is only with what you know. We had athletes – that was never an issue – but the rugby intelligence was a little bit behind.

“Definitely you’re seeing the change now. A lot of kids are getting a lot more game time at a younger age. You can see that their bodies are a lot more fluent in the movement of the game. It is different to, say, American football or basketball.”

Palamo puts the speed of learning in other countries down to an increased frequency of matches at club level.

“It’s repetition. Overseas they play week in and week out. You see certain things so much that it becomes second nature.

“You see a play that’s happened over and over again and you can almost anticipate what’s going to happen next. Whereas in the States, we’re still trying to get that game time.”

Palamo featured in RWC 2015, below, when the US finished bottom of their pool without registering a point. But his inclusion in the 2019 USA squad was anything but a foregone conclusion. Two years ago, he was considering life after rugby having broken his foot several times.

“To be called into the World Cup squad, that caught me off-guard. I wasn’t sure if I was in the running.

“I was approached by the coaches saying, ‘would I like to give it a shot’? I thought, ‘why not’? Coming to the end of it, you might as well go as hard as you can. I’ve got older brothers, too, and they’re all in the work world and they were all telling me to go for as long as I can. That’s what helped me push myself to doing it.”

Following their 45-7 defeat by England on Thursday, USA have had to say goodbye to young prop David Ainu’u, who was injured in the third minute of the match. Chance Wenglewski will join the squad in Japan in his place.

Will Hooley and Paul Lasike continue their recoveries after taking knocks in that match, with both still to return to training.

Work Hard, Play Hard – Nate Brakeley juggles rugby with data job

Work Hard, Play Hard – Nate Brakeley juggles rugby with data job

Written by Nick Heath for Rugby World Cup News Service.

OKINAWA, 22 Sep – For USA lock Nate Brakeley, the Rugby World Cup is a balancing act. In between matches and training with the Eagles, he is continuing his job as a data analyst for a real estate technology company in Manhattan.

The 30-year-old from Massachusetts, who plays his club rugby with Rugby United New York (RUNY), is one of a handful of the USA’s Rugby World Cup squad who is still working outside rugby. He has been spending time working remotely for his employers.

Brakeley said: “It’s pretty wild. It’s work and then straight to training. Basically, during rugby season there’s not a lot of down time, so it’s a big time commitment. At the same time, I enjoy it. If I was in rugby all of the time, I might go a little crazy.

“My employer’s been very good about it because it’s not like I’m off on a beach somewhere. It’s something important to me and there’s a bigger picture, so they’re willing to put up with it for a bit.”

Brakeley’s average training week at RUNY consists of three evening sessions, with two or three morning gym sessions. His work hours are usually 7am to 6pm, with a rugby match on Saturday or Sunday.

“Depending on when the game is, I would travel on Friday afternoon, play Saturday and come back. There were plenty of weeks where we would play Sunday night and I would ‘red-eye’ into the office on Monday morning.”

When on team duty, Brakeley similarly balances working around training by being up at 6am to put in some analysis hours before the morning session and continuing from 7pm at the end of the day.

“When I’m on tour, rugby always comes first. I tick those boxes, then I tick my work boxes and so it really is my leisure time that takes the hit.”

Brakeley has some experience of English rugby, having played at Twickenham in the 2012 Varsity Match for Cambridge, where he spent a year studying.

At 30, Brakeley says that “life after rugby is on the horizon at some point”. He feels his choice to work helps soothe any concerns over finding a career after he has finished playing.

As he prepares for his first Rugby World Cup, he feels vindicated that his decisions have brought him to this point.

“It validates to me that I’ve made the right choice. I always wonder, ‘would I have gotten further in rugby if I’d have put the career on the side for a bit?’

“But I think this validates the decisions that I’ve made, which obviously is good because it would be really frustrating to get to this point and have the regret that my career washed out my World Cup chances. I’m thrilled about that.”

Joe Taufete’e brings gridiron’s snap to USA

Joe Taufete’e brings gridiron’s snap to USA

Written by Nick Heath for Rugby World Cup News Service

OKINAWA, 24 Sep – USA hooker Joe Taufete’e began his sporting life with dreams of American football stardom – until a knee injury ruined his hopes of playing with the San Francisco 49ers.

Taufete’e, pictured above, is set to play in his second Rugby World Cup and earn his 24th cap for the USA at Rugby World Cup 2019.

His former role as a gridiron long snapper required him to pass or ‘snap’ the ball across very short distances but at very high speed. It is a specialized role used for field goals or punts.

“It has to be fast and quick because the defense is rushing from the other side. That was how I got into throwing. If we didn’t complete the first down, we’d have to snap it for almost ten yards. That was how I transitioned to be a thrower in rugby as a hooker.”

At 22 and uncapped, he received a shock call-up to the USA squad for the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Then in 2016, following a stint with the San Diego Breakers, he was signed by USA head coach Gary Gold in his former role as Worcester Warriors boss.

Taufete’e, who was born in American Samoa and raised in California, will carry the name of his late father-in-law in his heart when he steps out to face England at the Kobe Misaki Stadium on Thursday.

His wife Noeleen and her family played a key role in introducing him to rugby where he could put his football expertise to good use.

Taufete’e’s rugby career has been inspired and guided by his later father-in-law, the man he knew as Papa Siolo, who died earlier this year. His name is tattooed on Taufete’e’s left forearm.

He learned the devastating news at the end of his Premiership season with Worcester Warriors. “It just broke me to hear that news,” he said. “To go back home at the end of the season, it was a dark spot. Now coming into this competition, I’m starting to feel a little more at ease but through that time it was tough.”

Taufete’e married Noeleen four years ago but has known her and her late father for nine years.

“He’d always supported me through my rugby and I knew that every time I’d come home from a tour, he’d always tell me what I did and what I did wrong. He was like my own father, telling me that he’s watched my games. To come home and feel that from my father-in-law alone was just amazing.

“He’s in my thoughts. Especially in this competition now, he’ll be in my heart and my head.”