(ISN) – CHULA VISTA, Calif. – Mataiyasi Leuta will make his Men’s Eagles Sevens debut and Nate Augspurger will pull on a U.S. jersey for the first time since December 2012 at Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens as Mike Friday’s team begins its stretch run to an Olympic-qualifying position.
The Eagles have been drawn in Pool D with fifth-ranked England, Kenya, and Wales after a fourth-place finish at their home tournament in Las Vegas. The U.S.’s campaign in the sixth leg of the 2014-15 World Rugby HSBC Sevens World Series begins Friday, March 27, at 7:38 a.m. ET with a match against Kenya.
“We are under no illusions how hard a group we find ourselves in at Hong Kong with England as well as the resurgent Kenya and a dangerous Wales team,” Friday said. “Whilst we recognize we have the ability and capability to do well, we recognize we need to play with a relentless desire, remain grounded, and play with accuracy to our potential.
“We want to be in that Cup competition come day three competing with the best teams.”
Undefeated in pool play at USA Sevens, the Eagles reached the third-place match at Sam Boyd Stadium with a shutout defeat of Canada in the Cup Quarterfinal and a narrow loss to New Zealand in the Semifinal. It was the U.S.’s third consecutive Cup berth, the longest such streak since the final three tournaments of the 2012-13 Series.
Seen at the first USA Rugby National Team Recruitment Camp along with Ahmad Harajly, Leuta earns his first selection to the senior team after impressing the coaching staff at the Camp and with the USA Falcons development side at the Las Vegas Invitational.
“Matai’s physical transformation has been simply unbelievable and testament to the guidance by Chris [Brown] and the work ethic of Matai, who’s come so far in these last two months,” Friday said. “He has also worked hard on his tactical and technical aspects and, whilst he is still raw in some areas, he is a beast of a man with an x-factor whether deployed on the wing or at prop.”
Leuta replaces Martin Iosefo in the squad. Iosefo recorded two tries for the Eagles in four legs since making his debut at Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens last November. The University of Montana student was unavailable for last week’s Men’s Eagles Sevens High Performance Camp and selection to both of the upcoming Asian legs.
Augspurger represented the U.S. at the 2013 and 2014 World Club 7s in London with New York City 7s and trains at the Northeast National Development Academy. He was a member of the 2014 USA Rugby Club 7s National Championship runner-up Old Blue of New York team. Augspurger was last selected to the Eagles in Dubai during the 2012-13 Series by then-coach and current USA Rugby Director of Performance Alex Magleby.
“Nate has earned his recall and has been outstanding all week after impressing in Las Vegas for New York,” Friday said. “He is a clever attacking player and, although small in stature, very aggressive and tenacious in defense in both action and communication.”
Pat Blair, Ben Leatigaga, and Shalom Suniula will be available to Friday’s team as non-traveling reserves. Blair returned to the squad in Las Vegas and played a crucial role in keeping late leads against Japan, Portugal, and Canada, while Leatigaga’s rugby this season has been played with Old Mission Beach Athletic Club outside of the Olympic Training Center, where he is in Residency as part of the World-Class Athlete Program.
“It has been a very tough squad selection,” Friday said, “even with the unavailability of Martin Iosefo, Kingsley McGowan, and Brett Thompson still returning from injury, which is always good news for the coach and is a testament to the boys and how they are driving one another to get better.
“The players continue to grow in their understanding and their attitude and the application to what we ask of them has been good both on the pitch and in the classroom.”
The Eagles are just 20 points from fourth in the Series standings and a Rio 2016 berth, sitting in seventh behind Argentina (sixth) and England (fifth). Follow the U.S. in Hong Kong and Tokyo on Twitter with @USARugby and watch the Series on Universal Sports.
Men’s Eagles Sevens | Hong Kong Sevens / Tokyo Sevens
Madison Hughes (C)
Men’s Eagles Sevens | Non-traveling reserves
Men’s Eagles Sevens | Coaching Staff
Mike Friday – Head Coach
Chris Brown – Assistant Coach
Brian Green – Physiotherapist
Sarah Sall – Massage Therapist
Paul Goulding – Analyst
Nick Tricarico – Manager
Men’s Eagles Sevens | Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens
v Kenya – Friday, March 27 – 7:38 a.m. ET
v Wales – Friday, March 27 – 11:34 p.m. ET
v England – Saturday, March 27 – 4:42 a.m. ET