The High School All-Americans wrapped up their tour of South America with a lopsided 52-3 loss against the Argentina U-18 team. That result shouldn’t be surprising considering that it was the last match of a tough five game tour and against a very tough opponent. But it doesn’t diminish the fact that the tour was a resounding success. Overall, coach Salty Thompson and the team have to be please with their effort. They finished the tour with an overall record of three wins and two losses (two wins against Chile and one over Uruguay with a loss to Uruguay and Argentina) after coming into the tour with little time together and an eclectic squad.
So what can we take away from the tour? First, it is important to note the rugby intelligence of the players. These players are still in high school but they showed an intelligence that has often been lacking from American players. The reason for this change is simple: players are playing at a younger age and picking up the intangibles earlier than before. Previously, players on the national teams either picked up the game in College or afterwards. That doesn’t mean they haven’t gone on to have successful careers as rugby players, it just means they had to pick up some fundamental later. Some played in high school but the competition wasn’t that fierce and there weren’t that many programs in place. Now, however, things are different. The High School All-Americans showed that American players are picking up the skills necessary to compete on the world stage at a much earlier age. If the basics are ingrained in these players, when they move on to a higher level they won’t have to take a step backward to learn what is legal; rather, they can focus on picking up intangible aspects of the game that make them better players.
Second, this team comes from all over the country and that’s a good thing. There is no denying that rugby has certain strongholds in this country like California, Utah, Colorado, etc., but this team has spread its net even further. In particular, players from Hawaii are being integrated into the team. Hawaii is a relatively untapped hotbed for rugby players that could strengthen the players pool. All credit should be given to Thompson and his crew for finding these players.
Lastly, the fact that a tour like this was even possible is a great sign. The major sponsorship from Aircraft Charter Solutions cannot be understated. This multi-year sponsorship will ensure that the team is able to make several trips abroad throughout the year, rather than just one assembly. Any American team needs time together in order to succeed. Even now, having only two or three assemblies a year is not enough to replace the experience players are getting in youth academies overseas, but it is better than nothing.
Hopefully, many of these players will move on the Junior All-Americans and next year’s Junior World Championship. The fact that the Junior All-Americans won the Junior World Rugby Trophy is something very significant. Think about it: at least for the next year our youth team is considered one of the 12 best in the world. If this were a World Cup that would mean that they would automatically qualify for the next one. The Junior All-Americans are going to have to do a lot of work to stay in the competition (the big loss to Argentina is a good indicator of what they will be up against), but that kind of competition is necessary if the team wants to get better.
Next up this summer, it’s the College All-Americans turn to show their improvement as they undertake a trip to Ireland. If the quality of the last college rugby season is any indicator, this team could have some terrific players. Standouts like Shaun Davies, Don Pati, Seamus Kelly, JP Eloff, as well as U-20’s Madison Hughes and Will Magie, could all play a big role on the team. They are future Eagles, and this is their chance to show how much rugby has grown in this country.
Overall, if the youth programs in this country are any indicator, the future of American rugby looks bright. As long as it gets the support it needs, there is no reason to say that the U.S. isn’t on its way to becoming a top Tier II nation.
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