Americans Overseas: The Manoa Effect

Posted: March 5, 2014 at 6:02 am

Manoa made the move to start an exodus?

Manoa made the move to start an exodus?

The last few months have seen a number of America head overseas on professional contracts. Cam Dolan has joined Northampton in the Premiership, Carlin Isles and Folau Niua are with Glasgow, Luke Hume is with Narbonne, and Tai Tuisamoa, Toby L’Estrange, and John Quill have all joined London Welsh. Several other players have had significant looks from other teams and could join next season when money comes available.

These five players join an increasing number of players overseas. In total there are now fifteen capped or U.S.-eligible players (9 capped, 6 eligible) in the top three leagues of Europe. Ten players are playing in second divisions. This is a huge increase over previous years.

So why have the numbers increased? It’s common at this time of the year for players to bring in injury cover and a few players have been brought over for just that purpose. However, that alone still doesn’t explain the larger numbers.

The answer may lie in the strong Fall the Eagles had. Putting in a big showing against the Maori All Blacks certainly helped Cam Dolan while a big performance from Tai Tuisamoa against Russia surely caught the eye of London Welsh. Folau Niua was steady throughout the fall. However, teams in Europe had to have seen the Eagles in the summer when they went 0-8. Sure, they played well in some of those matches but it was hardly impressive.

The real answer may lie with one man: Samu Manoa. Since joining Northampton a couple of seasons ago (at the expense of going to the World Cup with the Eagles) he has emerged as not only one of the best players for the Saints but also in the Premiership. Of any American he has the capability of slotting into almost any other country’s starting line-up.

When he joined Northampton from SFGG he was far from a certain thing. He had only played for the Eagles once. He did star for SFGG as they ran to the Super League title but that is hardly comparable to a top European league. The Saints selected Manoa based on his physical attributes and his potential. It panned out for them big time.

We think it’s safe to assume that other teams in Europe see what Northampton got in Manoa and are trying to find their own gems. Americans are relatively cheap and if you can get them on the roster (visas are an issue) then you can develop them over time. Not all Americans have been signed on potential but players like Niua, Tuisamoa, and Dolan could all be traced to Manoa in some form.

The philosophy isn’t new. Dan Lyle opened a lot of doors for Americans in the early 90s. Americans have also been seen as physical potential but Manoa also showed, along with players like Scott LaValla, that we also now have the rugby background to get the job done. American players now come in with a leg up and European teams have noticed.

It’s not just Manoa that has opened doors, although he is the most high-profile, the play of Blaine Scully has also done wonders for Americans. If the U.S. has a strong summer and then a strong World Cup we could see even more players heading overseas. That is only good for the game. A lot is going to depend on how this new crop of players does. Even if a few pan out than attitudes in Europe could be permanently changed.

Curtis Reed is the founder and editor of This Is American Rugby. He can be found on Twitter @ThisIsAmerRugby, on Facebook, and at www.thisisamericanrugby.com

  • EA

    Interesting that so many people panned the USA-Russia match being played in London but now so many USA players are landing contracts in Europe. Perhaps that event is paying dividends for Eagle players after the opportunity to shine in front of so many club scouts?

  • Matt Manley

    Quit possibly this single most under rated factor in American rugby is athleticism.

    It pains me that rugby in the United States has always settled for the “take what you can get” mentality. Like anything in America, you really have to sell people on something and I think USA Rugby has done a piss-poor job of raising rugby’s profile in the US.

    Television should be USA Rugby’s highest priority because it helps with other issues the game my have. Consider the UFC for example. They partnered with SpikeTV to develop original content, i.e. The Ultimate Fighter, and promoted the hell out of the brand. The UFC has since parlayed that success into being on FOX.

    The UFC’s plan should be followed verbatim by USA Rugby to raise the profile of the sport in America. This will bring in more money, more players and more success overall.

  • APBear

    How about Blaine Scully? He’s been a stud for Leicester! He’s also a great example of American crossover athletes making heads turn in rugby.