(ISN) – BOULDER, Colo. – The USA Rugby AIG Men’s Junior All-Americans will play Canada’s men’s under-20 team in a two-match series to determine the North American representative at the World Rugby U20 Trophy in Portugal.
Interim Head Coach Michael Engelbrecht has selected 26 young athletes to travel to British Columbia for the March 23 and March 27 match days at Shawnigan Lake School and Westhills Stadium, respectively. The MJAA coaching staff assembled 49 eligible players last November for the Selection Camp, from which 20 All-Americans made this month’s touring squad.
“Michael and the staff have put together an experienced age-grade team,” USA Rugby Director of Performance Alex Magleby said. “Plenty of lessons to be learned in precious international competition, and we look forward to seeing the athletes come through this experience better prepared for future successes in the college and club games and for future national team honors.”
Nine players, including Ben Cima, Hanco Germishuys, and Christian Wiessing, were members of the 2014 Junior World Rugby Trophy MJAA squad that finished third with one loss in Hong Kong last April. Cima, Germishuys, and eight others have played with the Boys High School All-Americans coached by Salty Thompson.
“We have been able to select a core group of players that already have international age-grade experience and supplement them with others that we’ve had our eyes on for a while within the USA Rugby age-grade pathway,” Engelbrecht said. “Of course there are always additions that get on the radar outside of that process and have included those standouts, as well.”
Engelbrecht, who also works closely with the BHSAAs, helped put attendees through double-session training days during the Selection Camp and will be aided by Assistant Forwards Coach Peter Borlase, USA Rugby High Performance Coaching Manager Luke Gross, Skills Coach Marc Stcherbina, and Attack Coach David Williams in bringing the MJAAs up to speed with a short assembly.
The MJAAs are due to arrive in Victoria Wednesday, March 18, before six training sessions in four days will test the team’s camaraderie and skills ahead of the first match day. The athletes will then have a recovery day and three training sessions prior to the second match day at the Rugby Canada Center of Excellence.
“The challenge for us is to quickly get these players on the same page and to also build strong bonds between players, between players and coaches, and within the coaching staff,” Engelbrecht said. “Fortunately most of the players know each other and the coaching staff has already spent some time together. Quickly building team chemistry is critical to success on short tours like this.”
The North American qualifier for the World Rugby U20 Trophy will be determined by the aggregate score at the culmination of the two matches, meaning a loss in one of the two matches would not be the end of the MJAAs’ qualification hopes. The MJAAs and Canada each hold a 2-2 record in the head-to-head matchup since May 2012, with the last series held in Minnesota in the summer of 2013.
“The objective of this tour is to earn a 2015 U20 Trophy berth by beating Canada in Canada,” Engelbrecht said. “The players and the coaching staff fully understand and accept the magnitude of the challenge ahead of us.”
The World Rugby U20 Trophy in Portugal is scheduled for May 7-24 at Estádio Universitário de Lisboa and National Sports Center of Jamor. The North American qualifier will be placed in Pool B with Hong Kong, Namibia, and Tonga. Fiji, Georgia, Portugal, and Uruguay make up Pool A.
Following this spring’s MJAA campaign, the program will undergo a comprehensive review.
“We need to better understand how this crucial age can best be identified for future international honors and developed towards that goal,” Magleby said.
“How can we better support these athletes and their peers without compromising the important scholastic experience? And, of course, for young athletes not in college, how can we better transition from the high-school game to senior honors. Is an under-20 full-time academy more productive? Do we need an under-20 age-grade team? How do we use the program to develop our coaches? It is crucial we are clear with the mission and connect with our stakeholders to assess and help improve the model.”
Both matches between the MJAAs and Canada’s men’s under-20 team will be streamed live online by Rugby Canada.
AIG Men’s Junior All-Americans | Canada Tour
Name Height Weight College/School
Babapelumi Adejuigbe 6′ 225 Cornell University
Oisin Brady 5’10” 170 Trinity College (Ireland)
Austin Bush 6′ 200 Arkansas State University
Victor Camptat 6’8″ 225 Toulon Academy (RCT Toulon)
Benjamin Cima 6’1″ 195 University of Maryland
Scott Dean 5’11” 185 Central Washington University
Oliver Drew 6’3″ 227 Bournemouth University (England)
Fitou Fisiiahi 6’1″ 248 Spearhead Academy
James Gannon 6’2″ 248 Lindenwood University
Jacobus Germishuys 6’1″ 226 Gloucester Academy
Paula Hafoka 6’2″ 200 New South Wales (Australia)
Seth Halliman 6’2″ 195 American International College
Braeden Hood 6’1″ 196 Texas A&M University
Lucas Joseph 5’11” 230 University of Notre Dame
Ian Kinsley 6′ 187 Trinity College (Ireland)
Nick Kwasniewski 6’1″ 250 Grand Canyon University
Valdemar Lee-Lo 6’1″ 265 Seattle Saracens (OPSB)
Koroi Maciu 6’2″ 248 Sacramento Lions RFC
Connor McRae 6′ 170 Arizona State University
Louis Mulholland 5’10” 185 University of Bath (England)
Wesley Parker 6’3″ 215 Lindenwood University
Darien Pickett 5’10” 232 Grand Canyon University
Tanner Pope 6′ 240 Arkansas State University
Gabriel Romero 5’6″ 210 Lindenwood University
Erik Thompson 5’10” 177 University of California, Los Angeles
Christian Wiessing 6’3″ 220 University of Colorado Boulder
AIG Men’s Junior All-Americans | Coaching Staff
Michael Engelbrecht – Head Coach (and Defensive Coach)
Luke Gross – Forwards Coach
David Williams – Attack Coach
Peter Borlase – Assistant Forwards Coach
Marc Stcherbina – Skills Coach and Assistant Attach Coach
Brian Finn – Physiotherapist/Trainer
AIG Men’s Junior All-Americans | Canada Tour
v. Canada – Monday, March 23 – 6:30 p.m. ET – Shawnigan Lake School
v. Canada – Friday, March 27 – 10 p.m. ET – Westhills Stadium