It’s pretty exciting, as a rugby fan, to be in a room with Martin Castrogiovanni and Todd Clever as they discuss what Saturday’s USA vs Italy match in Houston will mean to them.
The two captains and the coaches sat down to meet the press Friday.
Castrogiovanni, who plays at the pinnacle of European rugby with Leicester Tigers (he owns an Italian restaurant in Leicester, too), says that the U.S. team is good in lineout and effective at the breakdown. He said he thought the game would be very close. Here is a game preview.
Clever and U.S. Coach Mike Tolkin exuded excitement. They raved about Houston and the efforts made by the city and representatives of Texas rugby. They were looking forward to the big crowd – expected to be around 17,000, which would make it the largest rugby event held in the USA.
“Everyone on the field has been selected, so they deserve to be there,” Clever said when asked how he, as captain, helps younger players deal with this type of crowd. “Everyone gets butterflies, whether you are playing before 200 people or 20,000. You have to channel that into the most productive place.”
Questions soon turned to comparisons of Italy and the USA in terms of rugby development. All acknowledged that 10 years ago, Italy was a rugby minnow crawling up to the 6 Nations.
“We had more success when we got more players up into the professional teams in Europe,” Castrogiovanni said. “I see similarity with the USA, as I see more and more Americans play professionally.”
Castrogiovanni battles USA fullback Chris Wyles, who plays for Saracens, several times during the English premier competition. Wyles is not the only American to ply his trade in Europe, or course.
After the press conference, RugbyInTexas.com caught up with Clever and Tolkin to ask about the development of Texan Taylor Mokate, who starts at blind-side flanker for the USA Saturday night.
“I knew of Taylor at age grade level, then he went to Oklahoma,” Tolkin said. “He resurfaced when he went to New Zealand. His confidence has really improved, as have his running lines.”
Mokate scored a try in his first start for the Eagles in last weekend’s win over Georgia.
“Taylor and I played in the Hong Kong 7s together and roomed together,” Clever said. “He told me his goals, and here we are. The biggest thing he has gained from playing in New Zealand is the fact that he is living and breathing rugby.”
Coach Tolkin gave a message to all rugby coaches and youth players as the interviews wrapped up.
“Improve and constantly work on run, catch and pass,” he said. “That’s what we need to work on. Then kicking skills, and throwing skills for hookers. We need to build depth charts based on these skills.”