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A year after touring South Africa and worrying constantly about whether the level of competition was the right level. In South Africa, it turned out fine – three games were very close, and only one, the first one, was a blowout win for the tourists. Then in England during March they again struck a good balance, although a nasty bout of flu ended that trip early.
This summer trip to South American promises to be an even better test for the American high schoolers.
The team of 32 leaves Wednesday night for Chile, where they will play their
first game on Sunday, against the Chilean U19 team, in Vina del Mar on the
coast. Then it’s a long drive up the mountains to Santiago for a second
match against Chile on Wednesday.
Then it’s a flight to Montevideo and a Saturday match against the Uruguay U19s, and a second match in Uruguay’s capital four days later. And finally, a ferry ride to Buenos Aires and a game against the Argentina U18s.
All in all, five international matches in 15 days.
“We will need everyone to contribute,” Head Coach Salty Thompson said of the 32-player squad. “It is going to be very tough. But we had fitness testing today and I liked what I saw.”
Touring to South America gives the players some international experience – national anthems, intense pressure. But it also provides the players challenges in aspects of play not normally an issue in the USA – the kicking game, and the scrum.
All of the South American teams have good kicking games, and the deep three players will need to really ramp up their game in covering those kicks and making effective counter-attacking decisions. Coach Michael Engelbrecht will have much to say about that.
In the scrum, the pressure will certainly be on. Thompson has chosen nine front-rowers for the trip (if you were to go by normal proportions, you’d expect six or seven).
“Obviously it’s going to be demanding,” said Thompson. “We have agreements that we will be using 23-man rosters for each match, and we’re going to need every one.”
What will come out of this tour? Certainly players who want to play rugby at a high level will learn a lot. The players who excelled in 7s will get a chance to expand their skills in international 15s.
The HSAA team will also want to build on the success of the USA U20s, who won the Junior World Rugby Trophy. But even if they don’t win all their games, they will bring home a series of lessons that could help make American rugby great.