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The USA Selects kick off a three-game tour of South America Thursday in Montevideo, Uruguay, playing the host nation first before heading over to Salta, Argentina to face the Jaguars Tuesday and May 2. The team gathered for a short camp in Florida before flying to Montevideo, with players from three distinctive tiers coming together.
One group is full of established Eagles who are fully expected to be on the USA’s 31-man World Cup roster when the team’s announced in August. That includes the likes of Nick Wallace, Phil Thiel, Olive Kilifi and Seamus Kelly.
Then there’s a group of guys with caps who might right now be on the outside looking in, but have a chance to make the trip to the World Cup – Troy Hall, Zach Pangelinan, Tim Stanfill, Kyle Sumsion and Matt Trouville.
And there’s a group of guys who head coach Mike Tolkin has brought in just to have a closer look at, like Colton Cariaga, Nick Barrett, Niku Kruger, Ben Leatigaga and Teli Veamatahau, among others.
“I think we have three groups of guys, and they complement each other well, so that young group we can get those guys on surrounded by some experience and not have a whole load of players without experience there,” Tolkin told Rugby Today.
“We’re looking at playing time, we’re looking to gather as much information so we can be as formed as possible about making that summer selection squad, and from that the next goal would be that we want to form a solid base of players below that either can fill in this summer or move on to the next phase, so it’s really about gathering information, watching these guys and them getting experience.”
Two outliers who kind of fit into their own category are AJ MacGinty and Al McFarland, both of whom Tolkin coached at New York Athletic Club. They’ve both recently become U.S.-eligible via residency, and murmurs about them getting called up once they crossed that threshold have been heard practically since they arrived stateside.
McFarland is an Australian No. 8, having played almost exclusively at the back of the scrum during his stint with NYAC. While he’s definitely not an openside flanker, having carried a little extra weight around his midsection, he might be able to find time as a weakside flanker after slimming down a bit in preparation for his shot with the National Team.
“Al’s definitely changed his body type,” said Tolkin. “He wasn’t the chiseled guy. He’s a naturally great athlete, but he’s done a lot of work in the last eight months to get that body type hardened and put on some extra size and cut out a little of that extra body fat.”
MacGinty is an Irish flyhalf, and he’s been the best on American soil the last three years – helping NYAC win the final Super League championship in 2012 and Life claim back-to-back DI Club National Championships in 2013 and 2014.
Because of American rugby’s longstanding dearth of international-caliber flyhalves, MacGinty’s been penciled in by many as the USA’s starter for the 2015 World Cup for some time. Tolkin says that isn’t an internal belief within the Eagle conclave, though, and that there’s no pressure on MacGinty to be the man right away.
“Our expectation was when he was eligible we would get him in as soon as possible, but we’re not going to push him past what he’s capable of,” said Tolkin.
“He has a smart rugby IQ and is a great athlete, but we’re not saying, hey, he’s finally here and let’s get right into it. It helps having Shalom there, so it’s not like you’re the only guy in town and you better perform right now. We feel like we can work him in slowly and this tour will help a lot for him.”
Wins are the order of the day anytime a team representing the United States takes the field, but expect to see lots of playing time for everyone on the roster over the course of three games, as well as guys playing multiple positions. The Uruguay team should be close to a full-fledged international side, as not many Los Teros play otuside the country, and Argentina will be a little tougher.
"The Jags, I think they’ll be very strong," said Tolkin. "I think they’re looking to reinforce their World Cup squad and really fight for spots, so I expect them to be pretty strong. This will be the last real test for those guys before The Championship series."