NEW YORK, NY – We have reached the five-year anniversary of Rugby Wrap-Up’s USA Rugby Players To Watch article, and I am so happy we have been able to take it this far. It seems the fans and contributors like it, so many thanks to all. For those new to this article, we saw an idea in a magazine that called out to us. Instead of selected players noted for their previous year’s achievements (2015, in this case), we chose them for either what we expect them to achieve in the new year (2016) or the pressure placed upon them this year. After starting out only covering USA Men’s Rugby, we’ve now expanded to include USA Women’s rugby, as well as Canada, Europe and the Southern Hemisphere.You have seen the Canada group courtesy of Ray’s Rugby and Kyle Phillips, now we’re here today with the one that started it all–the USA list.
Before things get started, I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge all those that helped in the selection process. They are RWU contributors Jake Frechette, Grant Cole of This Is Texas Rugby, Wendy Young of Your Scrumhalf Connection and Wil Snape, former Northampton Saints player, Head Coach for NYRC Women and Head Coach of USA Rugby Women’s Junior All-Americans.. So, after reviewing our USA RUGBY Class of 2015 yesterday, today we name our 2016 USA Rugby Players To Watch…
Women’s Player of the Year – Hope Rogers: It was a tight call between Rogers and center Kelsi Stockert of the Seattle Saracens. particularly as both scored a try in the USA’s loss to New Zealand in the 2015 Women’s Rugby Super Series. Hope takes the title, however, because of her looming graduation from Penn State this year; we have seen the transition from college to senior club rugby derail talented college players before. Former students often struggle without the stability, facilities and convenience of playing varsity rugby at a college, and Stockert’s decision to play for her home state will alter her travel schedule, as she now frequently travels up and down Washington’s I-5, logging 700 miles a week between work, training and games. Rogers will have to adjust and motivate herself for that, plus she will have to find a club to play with. Logic suggests she will play with a Women’s Premier League, but depending on where she finds work, she may have to play D1. Being a Women’s Rugby Women’s Rugby Cupveteran at such a young age, she won’t struggle with the speed of the game but will be tested in scrums as opposing props maybe more one dimensional. Rogers has had arguably the greatest college rugby career a player can have–how will the next phase of her career go?
Men’s Domestic Player of the Year – Seamus Kelly: Speaking of players that had great college careers, Kelly is right up there. He was a high school phenom with Xavier, , then moved on to play collegiate rugby with University of California-Berkely. While still at Cal, he was selected for the USA national team, under the tutelage of his former high school coach, Mike Tolkin. The rub with Kelly is that he has been solid but never spectacular in the USA No. 13 jersey. He has been an uncontested first-choice player since he joined the squad, never really having to sweat for his position, but hasn’t stood out in the same way as others in the USA’s top XV. He has also failed to turn that national team exposure into an international contract, not impressing in trials with English Championship and Premiership clubs. Playing for San Fransisco-Golden Gate in the Pacific Rugby Premiership, he hasn’t yet performed at another level from his teammates or opponents. He remains a solid player but with a new coach coming in to the Eagles setup Kelly must really prove his worth. How will he react?
Men’s Overseas Player of the Year – Andrew Durutalo: “Drew” is the second-ever USA Rugby player to sign a Super Rugby contract (pint with and on JWB, if you name the first in the comments section). Overseas pro contracts like those don’t come around often, so Durutalo left the USA 7s program and took the gig. By leaving the 7s program, where he was a stalwart, Duratalo essentially has given up on making the Olympic team. In XVs, Durutalo can play all over the backrow, but is most often deployed as a 7–considering the fact that the 7 jersey is up for grabs for the USA currently, his time in Super Rugby will be huge for him, and USA rugby too. Unfortunately, Durutalo will be playing with the expansion Japan Sunwolves, so his team likely won’t win a lot of games. But his work at the breakdown and in loose should be much easier to spot and should make a difference if he is doing a good job.
Women’s Sevens Player of the Year – Tess Feury: It is not easy coming from a rugby family. Tess’ dad helped start the youth and flag rugby program in New Jersey after playing in college, while both of her older brothers played or are playing in college. However, Tess is making a name for herself, having captained the 2014 USA Youth Olympic 7s team and being named tournament MVP for the 2014 USA Youth Olympic 7s team and being tournament MVP for the 2014 USA Rugby Women’s Collegiate Fall National Championship. She was also a member of the inaugural High School All American team and Women’s Junior All American side. With 2016 rolling around you can expect her to be a force in the Collegiate Rugby Championship 7s and WJAA 7s games.Odds are strong she will be called into camp to compete for a place on the USA Women’s 7s team headed to Rio.
Men’s Sevens Player of the Year – Madison Hughes: We admit that Hughes is an odd pick. Anyone who has paid a hint of attention to the USA Rugby 7s program is well aware of Hughes’ importance as a player and team captain. However, that is exactly the point: the pressure will be on Hughes with Rio coming up and the USA coming off a brilliant 2014/15 Series? So one way or another, Huges will be one to watch. The other thing that sealed this selection for us was hearing head coach Mike Friday, 2014/15 Sevens World Series. head coach Mike Friday, who is not known for superlatives, lavishing praise on Hughes moments after he nailed the conversion kick to give the USA its first ever-win against New Zealand. Friday called Hughes “a young Simon Amor” in a brief and spontaneous interview. To put that compliment in context, Amor won the IRB World Sevens Player of the Year title in 2004, played in 43 World Series tournaments (back when the tour was only 6-8 games a season), won four Hong Kong Sevens titles, a silver medal at the Commonwealth Games in 2006 and scored loads of points and tries while captaining England–who he now coaches. High praise indeed. As Hughes goes, so go the Eagles.
Women’s Young Player of the Year – Asinate Serevi: Yes that Serevi! The daughter of 7s legend Waisale Serevi, Asinate’s pedigree has shown itself in 7s as well as XVs. She was part t of the Central Washington University team that made the National Championship in both codes, and as a freshman center she was a team captain–something that doesn’t happen often in any sport, let alone in a varsity program like CWU. Serevi flashed her brilliance as part of the winning USA Rugby AIG Women’s Collegiate All-American Sevens team at Elite City Sevens. She is also turned heads with her outstanding play for the Women’s Junior All Americans as part of the win win over Canada in the three-match series. In all likelihood she will be capped this year as a full Eagle in XVs before starting her senior year of college
Men’s Young Player of the Year – Ben Tarr: Ben is a dual-country child, having spent time in the USA heartland in Indiana and in Queensland in Australia. fter putting in an impressive performance for the USA U-20 side, he was quickly promoted to time with the Selects, USA Rugby’s “A” side. Considering the desperate need for props for the USA, Tarr’s quick rise through the ranks was no surprise. After playing in Australia’s National Rugby Championship or its first season, Tarr took the jump and moved to the USA to play for the Glendale Raptors. Unfortunately for Tarr, he got injured in 2015 and his whole year was spent recovering. Now in 2016 he will be ready to go for this season’s PRP, looking to improve his game and hopefully logging time in the new pro competition and Americas 6 Nations. Tarr could be the prop USA Rugby has been desperately looking for to be the bookend to Titi Lamositele.
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And as always, stay low and keep pumping those legs.