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The High School All Americans are set to start the Rosslyn Park 7s beginning Thursday.
This massive group of 7s tournaments in England has a hugely competitive open division, in which the HSAA team will play in Group C. Oddly, the only other American team in the tournament, ICEF out of Los Angeles, is also in that pool.
"They have absolutely nothing to lose in that game," HSAA Head Coach Salty Thompson warned about ICEF. "This is a perfect time for them to have a crack at us, and I am very concerned about that game."
Also on the slate in Group C is Bishop Burton, Coleg Gwent, and Sherborne School.
The teams play a lot of games on the day so rolling subs are used, something that can run to the Americans' advantage as Thompson will be able to pull a player off, give him some advice, and send him back onto the field.
The HS All American team is similar to the team that won the Boys HS Elite 7s at the Las Vegas Invitational. However, there are some key absences. Calvin Whiting's passport did not arrive in time (and he gave the US Government plenty of time). Mike Reid is back in New Zealand, while Brian Hannon is serving a suspension for a red card in a high school game; those two were the scrumhalves for the HSAA team in Vegas. Instead, the halfbacks from the HSAA Bs who won the Plate in Vegas will suit up - speedy Austin Taefu and skilled Evan Clark.
Big Vili Helu isn't available and neither is JoJO Tokoisuva. But Hanco Germishuys leads a hard-charging group of forwards that includes Suwaiter Poch, Jr., Jahlani Tavai, and Ben Pendowski.
Tavai is set to play football at the University of Hawaii. The fast, elusive 6-4, 225-pound monster chose UH because they will let him play rugby.
Pendowski, a product of Budd Bay in Olympia, Wash., is a convert from prop to hooker and will play rugby at Central Washington.
Ben Cima will be the flyhalf and he's a poised player, while Jonah Eldridge, said Thompson, is probably the most 7s-specialist player he has.
"The issue I have is skills depletion for the guys, even those who are playing," he said. "A lot of these guys are the star players for their team, so you know they're not passing a lot. They're taking the ball and challenging defenses. We really need them to be working on their passing."
The HS All Americans did scrimmage Epsom College, and beat them in a game where contact was controlled. Going into tomorrow, the American players are ready for some uncontrolled contact. Physicality will be one of their biggest assets.
The ICEF team is staying at Wellington College, the old school of one of the ICEF coaches, David Hughes. The HS All Americans are staying in a hotel across the street, and the teams have met. Tomorrow they will meet in the opening game at noon UK time.
"We are working to develope rugby players," said Thompson, whose son, Brett, is a leading player on the USA 7s team. "I think there's a lot of 7s talent here, but we don't treat rugby as if 7s and 15s are two divorced parents who don't talk to each other. We are developing players who, we hope, will succeed at both 7s and 15s, and might eventually specialize."
Top on the list seems to be Omaha's Germishuys, who is enormously hard to stop, is fast, explosive, and, said Thompson, "will just knock the crap out of you."
Germishuys is headed to Gloucester, and with Titi Lamositele going pro at 18, professional rugby is a legitimate hope for many of these players. Jesse Mander is already in the Wasps system.
Here is the HS All Americans team:
|Matt Brennan||5'10"||190||Senior||Seattle Vikings|
|Benjamin Cima||6'1"||185||Senior||Gonzaga College HS|
|Evan Clark||5'10"||165||Junior||Santa Monica|
|Jonah Eldridge||6'0"||168||Senior||McClatchy Lions|
|Junior Helu||5'11"||211||Senior||Hayward Griffins|
|Jesse Mander||5'10"||175||Senior||London Wasps|
|Benjamin Pendowski||5'11"||216||Senior||Budd Bay Barbarians|
|Suwaiter Poch, Jr.||6'0"||230||Senior||Hilo Reign|
|Tyler Sousley||5'11"||180||Senior||Penn Rugby|
|Austin Taefu||5'7"||156||Senior||Tempe Rugby|
|Jahlani Tavai||6'4"||225||Senior||Los Angeles|
See the HSAA team win the Boys Elite 7s in Las Vegas (skip ahead to 17 minutes)