USA Rugby Junior All-Americans $$$ Issues, Magleby Clarification, Performance vs U20 Canada

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EDMONTON, ALBERTA – The Junior All-America’s win on Saturday against Canada U20s, 27-25, was not enough to erase the massive point differential accumulated in their 12-46 defeat in game one. A combined aggregate victory of 71-39 by Canada pushes them through to the World Rugby U20 Trophy tournament.

BUDGET ISSUES:
Before we get to the recap of the series, it is worth addressing the rumblings about funding. Tony Ridnell recently wrote that a Board member of USA Rugby was unaware that this was the situation for the USA U20s. We reached out to Alex Magleby, USA Rugby General Manager, National Teams & Performance for a clarification. He explained that the age-grade levels are not funded by the USA Rugby Membership. He said that the funding for the likes of the Junior All-Americans comes from Philanthropy, Grants and Pay-to-Play. With the budget issues existing for the whole of USA Rugby, there is no trickle down monies for the age-grades that may or may not have been there in the past. As for the rumors the Jr. All-Americans’ matches vs Canada were in jeopardy, Magleby said that simply wasn’t the case:
Two very important donors came through with funds that enabled certain need-based players to attend that might have otherwise had difficulty doing so, while also helping to alleviate the costs for players and families.

When asked about the senior Collegiate All-Americans and whether their scheduled tours were canceled because of money, Magleby answered:

No. Nothing was scheduled to be canceled. There were different tour ideas discussed but they weren’t realistic with our financial situation. We are working on something now. We will be announcing shortly the Collegiate All-American program for the end of the summer.

In response to our follow-up question about whey there wasn’t a program already in place for families to plan at this point, Magleby explained:
“It’s taken more time to time find the right partners and help fund the All-Americans this year.

PERSONAL EXPERIENCE:
As a player who tried out for the U20 team this year, I was impressed by the system that JD Stephenson put together to scout talent regionally before calling a final tryout at the Olympic Training Center. Taking part in these selection camps costs hundreds of dollars, but players aren’t complaining; that is the cost of playing rugby in America. Whether it is out-of-pocket or through GoFundMe pages, they will find a way to pay and play.

On the age-grade level, players and coaches are put in difficult situations which make competing at the highest level harder. With that in mind, the Junior All-Americans were actually fortunate to be defeated by Canada in the first match… rather than having to forfeit. I applaud everyone on the U20 team that went up to Edmonton, and it is understandable why they were not completely prepared for the first match. This is not an excuse, but rather an explanation of the challenges of being a high-level rugby player in America. Overcoming the obstacles makes Saturday’s bounce-back victory all the more impressive.

Jr Collegiate All Americans

Ron Le Blanc photo.

RECAP:
Let’s take a look at how the World Trophy Qualification Series played out.

The Junior All-Americans selected a strong squad this year. With the series being moved to after the collegiate season, players from schools like Cal and St. Mary’s were now available. In previous years they were unable to compete.

The first half of Game One played out to be close, with tries by captain Malon Al-Jiboori and Daemon Torres of Life University making the score 12-19. However, simple errors and penalties allowed Canada to explode for 27 points in the second half. Cristian Rodriguez stood out. The fast and shifty fullback from Lindenwood was able to penetrate the Canadian defense.

The Americans found themselves behind at halftime again 8-20, after the Canadians scored beyond the 20th minute. Vice-captain and  –recently graduated high schooler  Ruben de Haas – scored the first points off of a penalty and Christian Dyer of Cal dotted down for the Junior All-American’s first try. Peter Howard of Naas RFC in Ireland started the US comeback in the second half. Torres scored two times late in the match and Samuel Walsh of Scots College in New Zealand kicked the conversion to give the Junior All-Americans the lead and victory… 27-25.

WHAT TO DO?
A loss is a loss, but the errors made are helpful as to what must be addressed going forward in our age-grade rugby. Players in the All-American programs have not seen enough international competition outside of North America. The High School All-American’s XV tour to the European Championship was a great change, but a last-place finish in a tournament against teams like Portugal, Spain, Belgium, and Canada is not what we should be producing. This is not the fault of the players or coaches. Rather, other countries are simply playing each other more, while the United States is attempting to figure out how to afford these trips. During my two years in the High School All-American program, I did not play a match against another national side, which certainly surprising. Competing against the best within America will not raise the level of play leading up to an eventual appearance in the World Trophy Tournament, winning it or advancing to the World Rugby U20 Championship. International experience should come in the years leading up to an international championship, not at the championship tournament itself.

Titi Lamositele played for Saracen’s Academy.

After one match of experience, the All-Americans looked like a different squad; one that was able to comeback from a halftime deficit. Experience is the key. The more time players compete at top levels – time on the job – the better their performances will be. Unfortunately for the Junior All-Americans, they got up to speed too late this time. But as noted above, experience comes at a cost and  given the current financial situation of USA Rugby, that is easier said than done.

ACADEMIES TO THE RESCUE?
Gaining experience with European academies sides (like Titi Lamositele), would at first seem to eliminate the funding needed from USA Rugby. Lamositele was scouted after playing in a tournament in England with the High School All-Americans. Unfortunately, those opportunities have been rare the past few years.

American rugby will continue to gradually get better over the years, but more immediate improvement will only come through younger and more frequent experience and exposure to international competition… Fingers crossed.


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About the Author ()

Luke Bienstock hails from Greenwich, CT and now studies and plays rugby at Dartmouth College. While at Greenwich High School, he became a rugby fanatic and developed a passion for cinematography.

  • Aaron

    Alex is doing his job. Be let’s be real, we have not had a consistent program for our U20s in quite some time. When it comes to U20s I’m even more mad now. There’s no needs based, and same with HSAAs. The Players should never be paying a dime when they’re selected for camp or tour. This should be completely gratuitous for them based on their performance on the field.

    • Grant A Cole

      Unfortunately, the USAR Board does not work that way.

      • Aaron

        I know man, makes me sad.

      • Junoir Blaber

        We have come so far on the field yet never progressed in the administration end.

  • 1stXV

    Far more important than more international experience is getting our kids into rugby at an earlier age so they can develop into the U16, U18, U20 and Men’s Eagle representatives that USA Rugby requires. Watching the games against Canada I saw some terrific athletes and wanted to find out more about them. It turns out that both players did not start playing rugby until they were 16! It is testament to their athletic prowess that were able to progress to being U20 reps in fours short years of rugby.

    Captain Malon Al-jiboori was a 1st team all-state defensive lineman in Oklahoma –
    setting a school record with 19 sacks. Here’s some quotes from him:

    “I started playing when I was 16, my older brother played in his senior year and I went to watch. I started playing myself the next day. I played gridiron my whole life as a defensive end, but I always wanted to play both sides of the field. In rugby, I get that.

    “I was committed to going to college to play [gridiron] on a scholarship, but at the last minute I decided rugby is what I wanted so I cancelled the scholarship.

    “You get to travel the world playing rugby, you can’t do that playing football. My family think I’m a little crazy because I just quit football and that’s what I grew up doing, so they’re a little weird about it but they’re used to it.

    “Rugby can take you places. I never pictured going to Africa or Australia in my life. Rugby changed everything for me, the way I look at life and the way I approach every game as my last.”

    Winger Deion Mikesell is another example. Incredibly, this guy has already earned 2 Eagle caps. On two occasions in the first game against Canada the backline executed perfectly – one more pass to the winger and we were off to the races for sure tries. Except he was horribly out of position both times, drifting far in front of where he needed to be in order to accept the proper pass. Deion is another athletic prodigy, playing football, wrestling and track in high school. His high school rugby coach was finally able to recruit him but they only have a 7’s competition!!
    Some quotes from him:

    “It’s funny, I liked rugby because there weren’t any pads and no helmets,” Mikesell said. “I like the physicality of it and the culture.”

    “When I started telling people that I was playing rugby in college people were like, ‘you’re not playing football?’,” Mikesell said.

    “I wanted to take my own route and show people that you don’t have to follow trends,” Mikesell said. “I just wanted to take a different route.

    “One of the things with me is I want to travel the world,” Mikesell said. “Rugby is very international and if I can excel in this sport it would give me an opportunity to do that. I want to play rugby overseas. That’s my ultimate goal.

    Now both these dudes are going to be a beasts of rugby players and will more than likely earn professional contracts overseas (or hopefully the USA) one day. But Imagine how good they would be TODAY if they first picked up a rugby ball instead of a football? They would be well on their way to becoming international rugby superstars.

    Somehow we need to get after these kids earlier. Rugby will sell itself – they get to play offense, play defense, no pads, no helmets, physicality, travel the world. Both these young men said the very same things. Start them at 13 and they are light years ahead of where they are now.

    Get 25 kids like these started at 10 and USA Rugby is Tier 1, no question about it. There are hundreds of thousands of American kids just like this just waiting to be recruited.

    When we wait until they are 16 or 18 we get the Men’s Eagle teams that we have today.

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