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Anthony Welmers and Mike Te'o have replaced Pat Blair and Walt Elder as the Eagles ready for the Hong Kong and Singapore stretch of the World Series. Blair and Elder, both forwards, played in Las Vegas and Vancouver, and Welmers will step in as a forward option, while Te'o gives head coach Mike Friday another halfback and some versatility.
Traveling with the team as injury cover is Malon Al-Jiboori. The Union High School (OK) product took up a full-time contract at the Elite Athlete Training Center some months ago, and this will be his first bite at senior-level international rugby. He will be playing in the Hong Kong 10s with Samurai, like Nate Ebner did last year, and called up if injury dictates. He is the second member of Union's highly talented 2015 graduating class to get a senior call-up, as Lorenzo Thomas was first capped by the 15s team last year.
Te'o is no stranger to the World Series, though he hasn't actually appeared on the circuit in three seasons. He's spent most of his time focusing on 15s, earning numerous caps for the Eagles, playing in professionally for the San Diego Breakers and club ball for Belmont Shore and OMBAC.
"Mikey Te'o has worked extremely hard on his game these last 12 to 18 months - both at XVs and sevens - and is maturing well as a player who has real x-factor and is learning when and when not to take risks, and be more calculated on when those are or are not needed," Friday said in a release. "He has also worked to improve his defensive game and his one-on-one tackling. We are excited to see Mikey complement the squad."
Welmers has been on the periphery since graduating from Davenport, playing with the Falcons and the All-Army team. He made is circuit debut in Cape Town earlier this season.
"Welmers has done well since his debut in Cape Town and has been working very hard in camp to earn another opportunity," Friday said. "As a result, he has forced his way into the 12, and he is a capable attacker and an aerial threat, which will give the squad another option to go to."
Despite the changes, Team USA retains its core moving into the seventh and eighth tournaments of the 10-event season. Ben Pinkelman and Maka Unufe, both of whom came up big in the Las Vegas and Vancouver tournaments, are on their second trip in a row, and stalwarts Danny Barrett, Madison Hughes, Folau Niua and Perry Baker are all back.
The Eagles are currently fifth in the World Series standings, with 17 points separating them and fourth-place New Zealand. Back-to-back semifinal appearances have boosted them ahead of sixth-place Australia.