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New Plan For USA U20 Men As U20 ARC Looms

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New Plan For USA U20 Men As U20 ARC Looms

The USA Age-Grade program has had a haphazard history. Ed Petersen photo.

The USA Men’s Under-20s finally has a real series of games to play, and is also getting a helping hand from an unlikely source.

The U20s will join five other national U20s teams in a tournament in Montevideo, Uruguay. This U20 Americas Rugby Championship is supposed to be an annual event that gives all of these countries a chance to expose young talent to international play.

Furthermore, with the USA playing Canada, this is also where those two teams play-off for a spot in the Junior World Rugby Trophy.

June 10 – Round 1
Argentina v Paraguay
Uruguay v Chile
USA v Canada (qualifier for Junior World Rugby Trophy)

June 14 – Round 2
USA v Argentina
Uruguay v Canada
Paraguay v Chile

June 18 – Round 3
Argentina v Uruguay
USA v Chile
Paraguay v Canada

Now all the USA team needed was a way to fill out the team and find a place to train … and fund it.

Head Coach Scott Bracken has had to rebuild the program in the shadow of USA Rugby’s financial meltdown. The program has no funding from USA Rugby, and while Rugby Americas and World Rugby are funding the U20 ARC, that’s not everything.

A Chance Meeting

Enter Colombia. Bracken attended a Rugby Americas meeting in December, and during that time he ended up sitting next to a representative of the Colombia Rugby Union. They got to talking, and eventually Bracken was asked what his buildup looked like for the U20 ARC.

At that time, the plan was to meet in Miami, train for a few days, and then fly to Uruguay.  But he was given another option. Train in Medellin, Colombia. The Colombian Rugby Union would provide free transportation and set them up with a training ground and reasonable accommodations.

“It was a really nice gesture on their part,” said Bracken.

And the kicker? They’d get a warmup game against the Colombian U20 program, which is desperate for more game time.

“It works out to cost less than being in Miami,” Bracken told Goff Rugby Report. “But there’s more to it than that. Just to have some time together is good, but in the years I’ve been involved with this program, we’ve never had an international match together before we played our first competition match. In Colombia we get that, and we also can create that bunker mentality, us against them, that we need.”

The U20s will take 32 players to Colombia. Six of those will be on the younger edge of the age-grade window, and will know ahead of time that they aren’t going on to Uruguay.  The game will allow Bracken and his staff to find out who can perform in an intense game situation.

“It’s just so valuable,” said Bracken. “It’s a good way to put our systems in place, and a good selection vehicle.”

And one more thing—Medellin is about 5,000 feet above sea level. It’s not so high as to make training a massive hardship, but it might give players an edge when they go back down to sea level in Montevideo.

The Money Side Of Things

“We had three camps last year, and I worked out that if a player attended all three, the cost would be close to $7,000,” explained Bracken. “And the thing is, we never had the entire team for Canada in any one camp. The fact was, the athletes and their families were having to pay and we weren’t getting the yield.”

The solution is listed below, but without the camps, with the side trip to Colombia, and with some additional fundraising, the USA U20s could once again save USA Rugby from the shame of not funding a team many feel they should be funding before anything else.

Finding The Players

Without player ID camps, Bracken instead decided to find players through ingenious use of … letters.

One letter, sent around the country, asking coaches to nominate players. He wanted players who were born in 2000 or 2001, who were good players, athletic, and of good character.

He asked for film.

“The letter was a really big success,” said Bracken. “Some programs that felt overlooked or forgotten by USA Rugby now feel part of the process again.”

The letter was sent overseas, and while a large number of well-known US-based players will be selected, we will likely see US citizens or US-eligible from around the world.”

This brings up a bit of a question—should that be the plan? Bracken says, unequivocally, yes. This is not the High School All Americans, which is made up of players in high school in he USA (usually). This is not the Collegiate All Americans, which is made up of US-based collegiate players. This is a USA team made up of players who need a little time before graduating to the full Eagles team.

This is about the Eagles.

(It’s also worth noting that the team that won the Junior World Rugby Trophy in 2012 included Madison Hughes and Will Magie, who were both in school in England.)

“We’re going to select the best team that is USA-eligible,” said Bracken. “If they’re eligible for the USA; if they have the paperwork, then just like the senior team, they will be selected. This is the USA Under 20 team, it’s not the team for players who live in the USA. It’s for future Eagles; we want to pick players who will be in the next World Cup.”

The team will assemble on May 29 and travel to Medellin, Colombia on May 30. They will train there and play Colombia’s U20s. After that they will travel to Montevideo in time for Round 1 of the U20 ARC.

If there is a conflict with those dates, such as a major collegiate sevens tournament, Bracken will not accommodate—players need to be available for one or the other, but can't do both.

The cost? By Bracken’s estimation, the team needs about $70,000 to accomplish this.