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Changes for 15s MNT for June

National Teams

Changes for 15s MNT for June

Colleen McCloskey photo.

June is soon upon us and that means the USA Men’s national team will play its summer series.

The “series” is, of course, just the two games, with Italy at Avaya Stadium (San Jose, Calif.) June 18 and Russia at Bonney Field (Sacramento, Calif.) on June 25.

Head Coach John Mitchell has already been through some intense highs and lows, seeing his team tie an Argentina XV and beat Canada and Chile, but then lose to Uruguay and (most ignominiously) Brazil. In doing so Mitchell saw the challenges of putting together a USA team when not everyone is available, and when higher-ups have made player-availability trades with major pro clubs.

Along the way, the team was criticized internally for being unfit, and longtime strength & conditioning coach Dave Williams lost his job.

Mitchell was also working with a squad already picked for him - nothing he could do about that as he had just come into the position. High Performance Director Alex Magleby chose the squad, and he did so while navigating the expected post-World-Cup retirements, injuries, and those tradeoffs with overseas pro clubs.

So now, what we see playing in June will be more of what Mitchell has chosen, and that includes a couple of changes in the coaching staff.

Former San Diego State and USA 7s team player Alex Ross is now the strength and conditioning coach, after a long and successful stint in New Zealand in that role. USA 7s team coach Mike Friday joins the staff as the attack coach. It’s easy to forget that Friday is not a 7s specialist - he knows a little about 15s, too.

Among the players we didn’t see in January, or didn’t see much of, who are now with the squad: 

Nate Augspurger. The former Southside HS standout and University of Minnesota All American is one of several scrumhalves who have been brought in as part of what appears to be a wholesale halfback hinge audition.

Tom Coolican. Previously-capped hooker, a position where the Eagles are a little thin. The Australian-born Coolican was a standout for the NYAC club and had a key role in the USA’s comeback win over Canada in 2014.

Shaun Davies. Previously capped at scrumhalf and a little at win, Davies was out of favor for a couple of years. The former BYU All American, who is originally from South Africa, played at Life University and now is with the Ohio Pro Rugby team. He is a very good scrumhalf who can kick goals and he runs well.

Cam Dolan. Available only for Argentina, Dolan has begun to emerge as a valuable player for the Cardiff Blues, and will be an excellent option at lock or loose forward to the USA this June. Dolan started his rugby with the Naples Bears in Florida, and then moved on to Life University.

Andrew Durutalo. Having showed his value for the USA 7s team last year Durutalo played well for the Eagles in the World Cup and joined the Sunwolves in Super Rugby, where he was one of the team’s most consistently good players. He’s an excellent addition at flanker. Born in the USA of Fijian parents, Durutalo qualifies for the USA by his birthplace.

Seth Halliman. Newly capped at 7s, the Central Washington University wing might just be getting a look. Halliman started playing rugby with the Colorado Springs HS team, then played one year at AIC before transferring to CWU.

Harry Higgins. The hard-hitting loose forward, Higgins was a standout for Arkansas State before joining Old Blue. The Australian-born Higgins qualifies for the USA on residency.

Will Holder. Holder is a flyhalf/center and part of Mitchell’s ongoing search for the right #10. Holder is a very good kicker and a rangy runner. He played high school rugby for East Palo Alto, was an All American at West Point, and now is in the USA 7s team program.

Luke Hume. The aggressive, almost manic wing Hume played a couple of games for the USA in January and always provides a spark to the team. Australian-born, he qualifies for the USA on residency.

James King. King played for the Melbourne Rebels in Super Rugby, and was called in late to the USA team to face Brazil. The 6-6 lock is from New Zealand, but his mother is American.

Tony Lamborn. A 6-3, 225 openside flanker who played for the Wellington Hurricanes in Super Rugby, Lamborn is from New Zealand but his father is American. He’s a hard-hitting loose forward with a nose for the ball.

Titi Lamositele. Saracens wanted him to skip the Americas Rugby Championship, but the Eagles needed him desperately after injuries hit their front row. It’s good to see him back in more controlled circumstances. Lamositele is from Bellingham, Wash. and started playing rugby for the Chuckanut U19 program.

AJ MacGinty. The starting flyhalf for the USA in 2015, MacGinty qualifies for the USA on residency. He then went on to enjoy a good season for Connacht in Pro 12, but he’s reportedly not returning there. 

Angus MacLellan. The former Traverse Bay U19 player and Davenport All American missed the ARC due to injury. He provides much-needed depth at prop.

Deion Mikesell. He’d never played 15s before the fall, started for Lindenwood as a freshman, made the USA U20s team, and then was capped at the end of the ARC, scoring a try in the process. The Southeast Polk HS (Iowa) product is so very green, but has an enormous upside and an excellent attitude to go with his athleticism.

Thretton Palamo. Palamo has bounced around between 7s and 15s and you wonder exactly where he best fits. We’d like to see him put on some weight to be a more imposing presence in the midfield. Palamo started playing rugby for the SFGG youth program and then went on to represent the University of Utah in rugby and football.

Blaine Scully. He played one game for the USA in the ARC, and was very good, but was called back to his pro club, Cardiff, where he is very well-regarded. One of the best leaders in the USA system, he’s been named co-captain with Todd Clever, and will play wing or fullback. Scully went to Jesuit HS in Sacramento but didn’t play rugby until he attended UCLA. Then he transferred to Cal, where he was an All American.

Shalom Suniula. The former USA 7s team captain is back in the 7s fold, and can play both scrumhalf and flyhalf in 15s. He’s very good at conjuring something out of nothing. Suniula qualified for the USA because he was born in American Samoa.

Ben Tarr. The Australia-born, USA-parented prop was a USA U20 player and capped as a youngster, but injury kept him out of consideration in the ARC. he’s another who provides much-needed depth in the front row.

Peter Tiberio. The former University of Arizona All American, Tiberio has been capped at 7s and is a speedy player who can slot in at wing or scrumhalf. He’s a bit of a wild card as a play.

Stephen Thomasin. Put on the USA 7s team while a freshman at San Diego State, Thomasin is still in the USA 7s squad but hasn’t cracked the starting lineup in a couple of years. He has the ability to play a variety of positions.

Sixteen of the 34 players played rugby in high school in the USA, and 16 (a slightly different 16) played collegiate rugby in the USA.

There are several players fans are familiar with who are not on this list. We have a list of those players here. Some are injured, many have retired, and some have been dropped. On USARugby.org, Mitchell said fitness was a big part of it.

"We still cannot control selection and commitment of the best team mix, and it is still a guessing game on how long it will take to get the experience we need to consistently win," Mitchell said. "We have dropped players who have not met the conditioning standards and are non-compliant by giving away the majority of our penalties. These standards will not only allow us to compete physically with Tier One nations, but, more importantly, ensure that the game plan is effectively executed.”

There are some talented players on the list of those not picked, but players who did seem to struggle with keeping up, and Mitchell’s comment on penalties is well-taken. Offside and entering the breakdown from the side are often the result of a player being behind the play, and often that can be attributed to game fitness.

"Winning on a more consistent basis will be dependent on the speed of our learning and the ability to attract and have our best athletes together at each assembly," Mitchell also said. "Whoever we bring in will need to give a huge amount more than he has done before and raise his standards and levels of outputs. Only then will we deserve the right to beat Tier Ones on a consistent basis, otherwise it would have been achieved before now.

"I have the ability to guide and show them the way as long as the mindset remains open and is prepared to change."

Here's the full roster (*=uncapped in 15s):

Player Current Team Pos.
Nate Augspurger* Men's Eagles Sevens Scrumhalf
Chris Baumann Denver (PRO) Prop
James Bird Old Blue of New York Flyhalf
Nate Brakeley New York Athletic Club Lock/Flanker
Todd Clever Unattached Flanker
Tom Coolican San Francisco (PRO) Hooker
Shaun Davies Ohio (PRO) Scrumhalf
Cam Dolan Cardiff Blues (Pro12) Lock/Flanker
Andrew Durutalo Sunwolves (Super Rugby) Flanker
Seth Halliman* Central Washington University Wing
Harry Higgins* Old Blue of New York Flanker
James Hilterbrand Waratahs (Super Rugby) Prop
Will Holder Men's Eagles Sevens Flyhalf
Luke Hume Old Blue of New York Wing
Olive Kilifi Sacramento (PRO) Prop
James King Unattached Lock/Flanker
Tony Lamborn* Hurricanes (Super Rugby) Flanker
Titi Lamositele Saracens (Premiership) Prop
Chad London Denver (PRO) Center
AJ MacGinty Connacht (Pro12) Flyhalf
Angus MacLellan* Ohio (PRO) Prop
Deion Mikesell Lindenwood University Wing
Taku Ngwenya San Diego (PRO) Wing
Brodie Orth Denver (PRO) Lock
Thretton Palamo Men's Eagles Sevens Center
Greg Peterson Glasgow Warriors (Pro12) Lock
Aladdin Schirmer Central Washington University Flanker
Blaine Scully Cardiff Blues (Pro12) Fullback
Shalom Suniula Men's Eagles Sevens Utility Back
Ben Tarr Denver (PRO) Prop
Joe Taufete'e San Diego (PRO) Hooker
Mike Te'o San Diego (PRO) Fullback
Peter Tiberio* Men's Eagles Sevens Wing
Stephen Tomasin* Men's Eagles Sevens Utility Back