HOUSTON – The first Men’s Eagles starting XV under new head coach John Mitchell has been announced, with nine Rugby World Cup veterans set to complement a slew of talent new to the senior setup Saturday, Feb. 6, against Argentina in the inaugural Americas Rugby Championship.
While the match will not be a rankings test – the remaining tournament matches against Brazil, Canada, Chile, and Uruguay will be recognized by World Rugby as such – it will be the first time young athletes such as Kingsley McGowan and James Bird will have had the opportunity to play international 15s with the national team setup. Kickoff from BBVA Compass Stadium is set for 7 p.m. CT, with the live broadcast available on ESPN 3.
McGowan, who began his rugby career at nearby St. Thomas High School seven years ago before playing for one of the more successful collegiate rugby programs in Saint Mary’s College, will get his first start on the wing alongside 35-cap professional Takudzwa Ngwenya, another Eagle that calls Texas home. The two will line up with full back Blaine Scully, who has been named captain for Saturday’s match against the select side of the World Cup 2015 semifinalist and fifth-ranked nation in test rugby.
Todd Clever will help anchor the forward pack in the back row with Cam Dolan in front of David Tameilau, who spent time with Taranaki Rugby in New Zealand last fall as part of a partnership with USA Rugby. The front row of Chris Baumann, Eric Fry, and Joseph Taufete’e will be locked by Brodie Orth, originally scheduled to be available for the third round of the competition but called in early for the injured Matt Trouville, and Greg Peterson.
Phil Greening and Marty Veale have years of professional playing experience between them, with Greening’s time with England one of the most successful for his home country, and their coaching expertise has ensured a swift transition from the previous game strategy to Mitchell’s, an international forward himself.
“Marty’s technical work with the forwards has been outstanding,” Greening said of his colleague. “The detail he brings to what we need at this level is phenomenal.
“We’ve worked on our systems because we need to get into our structure quite quickly. It’s not going to be perfect – it’s all new – and it’s about breaking habits they’ve had for the last four years. In the heat of battle, when fatigue kicks in, people go back to their defaults. We’re trying to give everyone a new default: our system.”
Niku Kruger started his first match for the Eagles in a friendly against Aviva Premiership’s Harlequins last summer ahead of the World Cup, where he also wore the No. 9 shirt against South Africa. The Kutztown University graduate will partner Old Blue’s Bird in the half backs, with youngsters JP Eloff and Mike Te’o on the bench as cover in the playmaking positions.
Lemoto Filikitonga and Chad London were in the starting XV for the USA Rugby Selects in their first match against Argentina’s select side in a three-match tour of South America last spring, and were mainstays with the Selects in the previous Americas Rugby Championship competition that featured A-sides from Argentina, Canada, and Uruguay. The two will partner in the centers Saturday at BBVA Compass Stadium.
The 10 capped Eagles in the starting XV combine for more than 200 test caps, with Clever’s team-leading 63 followed by Fry’s 36 in 12- and four-year careers, respectively. The new Americas Rugby Championship, as well as the summer and fall internationals, offers more opportunities for the leading national teams of North and South America to increase the depth of their player pools, seen in the number of uncapped players in Mitchell’s squad.
Of the overseas professionals available for the weekend, only Clever and Fry will be with the team beyond the match in Houston.
“The country is only used to about six test matches a year,” Mitchell said. “Now we’re getting close to 12 with the inaugural Americas Rugby Championship. As we saw in the World Cup, we weren’t deep enough in terms of experience. There were great 50-minute periods but we need to stay in the game for 80 minutes to give ourselves a chance of bridging the gap between us and the Tier One nations.
“Like anything, we need a starting point, and that’s what Argentina will be – a starting point.”
Saturday’s match will be followed by a second consecutive match in Texas – a rivalry match against Canada at Austin’s Dell Diamond – and a final homestand in Fort Lauderdale against Chile before the tournament-concluding trip to South America. Each of the Eagles’ matches in the Americas Rugby Championship will be broadcast on ESPN 3, beginning with the 7 p.m. CT kickoff Feb. 6.
Men’s Eagles | v. Argentina XV
1. Eric Fry
2. Joseph Taufete’e
3. Chris Baumann
4. Brodie Orth
5. Greg Peterson
6. Cam Dolan
7. Todd Clever
8. David Tameilau
9. Niku Kruger
10. James Bird
11. Kingsley McGowan
12. Lemoto Filikitonga
13. Chad London
14. Takudzwa Ngwenya
15. Blaine Scully (C)
Argentina XV | v. USA
1. Roberto Tejerizo
2. Santiago Iglesias
3. Felipe Arregui
4. Marcos Kremer
5. Ignacio Larrague
6. Rodrigo Báez (C)
7. Lautaro Bavaro
8. Santiago Montagner
9. Gonzalo Bertranou
10. Domingo Miotti
11. Tomás Carrió
12. Joaquín Paz
13. Juan Cappiello
14. Matías Orlando
15. Ramiro Moyano
Argentina XV | Reserves
16. Franco Brarda
17. Gaspar Baldunciel
18. Cristian Bartolini
19. Pedro Ortega
20. José Deheza
21. Lautaro Bazán Vélez
22. Juan Novillo
23. Juan Pablo Estellés
Men’s Eagles | Americas Rugby Championship Coaching Staff
Phil Greening – Assistant Coach
Marty Veale – Assistant Coach
Rob Hoadley – Assistant Coach
David Williams – Strength and Conditioning Coach
Paul Goulding – Video Analyst
Sean Lindersmith – Team Manager
Men’s Eagles | Americas Rugby Championship 2016
v. Argentina – Saturday, Feb. 6 @ 8:10 p.m. ET – BBVA Compass Stadium (Houston)
v. Canada – Saturday, Feb. 13 @ 7:10 p.m. ET – Dell Diamond (Austin, Texas)
v. Chile – Saturday, Feb. 20 @ 6:10 p.m. ET – Lockhart Stadium (Fort Lauderdale, Florida)
v. Brazil – Saturday, Feb. 27 @ 3:10 p.m. ET – Arena Barueri (São Paolo, Brazil)
v. Uruguay – Saturday, March 5 @ 4:10 p.m. ET – Charrua Stadium (Montevideo, Uruguay)