When the U.S. men’s U-20 rugby team takes on the Japanese U-20 team this Saturday in the final of the Junior World Rugby Trophy, the U.S. has the opportunity do something special: win a major tournament and gain promotion to the Junior World Championship with the likes of New Zealand, France, Australia, and South Africa. The team certainly has the talent to beat Japan. They have looked good in the four matches they have played this summer (a pair of friendlies against Canada and then JWRT wins over Tonga and Chile) and have a lot of talent on their roster.
For fans not familiar with international youth rugby, the Junior World Rugby Trophy (JWRT) is essentially an annual youth tournament featuring eight U-20 teams from Tier II and Tier III nations. The Junior World Championship (JWC), on the other hand, features twelve teams mainly comprised of Tier I nations. This last year South Africa won the JWC at home in front of a capacity crowd of 33,210 at Newlands Stadium in Cape Town. In contrast, the JWRT final will be held in Murray, Utah in front of several thousands. The team that finishes last in the JWC is relegated to the JWRT, and the team that wins the JWRT is promoted to the JWC. This season, Italy finished last in the JWC and will be relegated, replaced by either Japan or the United States.
So can the U.S. do it? Absolutely they can. The team is led by a group of veteran players that have a combination of college, overseas, and club experience. Here is a look at some of the leaders on the team:
These players, and many others on the team, are the future of the U.S. National Team. This summer we saw just how competitive the Eagles can be. Couple that with the fact that the College All-Americans and the Junior All-Americans have had a couple of good assemblies and tournaments, and the future looks bright for rugby in this country.
One thing that really makes this team particular interesting is the fact that most of the team grew up playing rugby in high school. That has always been true for Americans that grew up overseas, but now it is true for the players raised in the United States. Over the last ten years high school and college programs have really improved, and these players have benefitted as a result. All of the players on the U-20 are central parts of their college teams, despite being underclassmen. That is because they haven’t had to learn the critical parts of the game in college. Doing the small and simple things is second nature to them, and as a result they are able to focus on other aspects of the game.
It would be wrong not to mention the coaching staff. Head coach Scott Lawrence has done an absolutely fantastic job assembling this team and coaching staff. After last year’s disappointing JWRT in Georgia, Lawrence made a list of ways to improve the program and improve scouting. He has accomplished all of those things this year. Importantly, he has done his homework and found players that aren’t in the traditional system. Some players play overseas, others for powerhouse colleges, and some even for club teams in America. In terms of play, Lawrence has come up with a game plan that utilizes his team’s strengths perfectly.
Japan will be a tough matchup (the game is at 8:00 p.m. et/5:00 p.m. pt and can be found online), but the Junior Eagles are up for the challenge. If you are in the Salt Lake area make sure you get out to game. If you can’t make it, get out there on Twitter and Facebook to show the team your support.
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The entire All Blacks apparel line has been updated for 2013/14. Check out the New Zealand All Blacks polo.
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The NEW All Blacks 2013/14 jersey has arrived at World Rugby Shop. Dare to wear the colors of the All Blacks.