12) Atlanta is growing as a hotbed for rugby in the United States
When the Eagles take the pitch March 29 against Uruguay, they will be doing so at Fifth Third Bank Stadium at Kennesaw State University in Marietta, Ga. It will be the second time in just over a month that international rugby enters the gates of the Kennesaw State football stadium. If taking in a single match isn’t enough for you, check out the South Independent Rugby Conference DI and DII Women’s Playoffs, as well as the WPL’s Atlanta Harlequins against D1 powerhouse and rival NOVA Women.
11) Two of college rugby’s best to battle prior to the Eagles’ match
Get to the stadium early to watch two of the best college programs battle in a curtain raiser for the IRB Rugby World Cup 2015 Qualifier. 2013 USA Rugby Division 1A National Champion Life University will take on Lindenwood University prior to the Eagles taking the pitch.
Rosters from the two teams out of the Mid-South Conference boast several AIG All-Americans, and both teams figure to make deep runs during this spring’s D1A playoffs. The last time the two varsity programs met, Lindenwood nearly pulled off the upset against Life in a 19-15 barnburner.
10) Get your tailgate on
Although the most exciting action of the day will occur inside the stadium during the match, there will be plenty of fun to be had before and after the match.
Cars can park at Fifth Third Bank Stadium as early as 9:00 A.M. for tailgating enjoyment. The Bud Light Party Village, located at the stadium’s parking lot, will be a great source of food and entertainment, as well. The Party Village, open from 11:00 A.M. to 9:00 P.M., will host DJs, vendors, and more, and is open to all ages. Reserve your spot at usarugby.org/usavuru
9) The Men’s Eagles haven’t won four straight since 2009-10
The summer of 2013 was a difficult stretch for the Eagles. The men’s national team lost seven consecutive matches against some of the world’s best competition. However, the year ended on a high note with back-to-back wins against Georgia and Russia in November.
If the Eagles manage to win the first leg of the home and away series in Montevideo, Uruguay, then the Eagles will be one win away from making it four in row. The last time the U.S.A. won four international tests in a row was from November 2009 to November 2010.
8) Catch the first win on home soil since 2012
It has been quite some time since the Eagles have entertained a crowd in victorious fashion here in the States. In fact, the last time the U.S.A. won a match on home soil was June 16, 2012, in Glendale, Colo.
7) Witness the brotherly love
Rugby players will often refer to teammates as ‘brothers.' For those who attend the Eagles’ match against Uruguay in Atlanta, they will have an opportunity to see a pair of actual brothers share the pitch as teammates.
Andrew Suniula, a consistent member of the Men’s Eagles' squad since 2010, and his brother Shalom, who has over 40 caps for the Eagles Sevens but is still seeking his first 15s cap, are both on the roster for the upcoming Uruguay matches. The last time the two shared the pitch together while representing the U.S.A. was back in 2010 during the IRB Americas Rugby Championship in South America.
Andrew, the oldest Suniula, shared the field with another brother, Roland, at the IRB Rugby World Cup 2011. Needless to say, Andrew is excited about the prospect of stepping onto the pitch with his youngest brother.
“I’ve played with Roland a bit over the years in the Eagles test jersey, but never really with Shalom,” he said. “So, I’ll be looking forward to seeing him make the most of this opportunity and also to play alongside him again. We’re all quite different in style and skill sets, but we’re all comfortable in our skin, and have the same drive to better ourselves within our individual games. I always look forward to putting that hard work out there on the field for the Eagles, but even more special to do it with your brothers beside you.”
6) Price of admission is a total steal
It’s not every day the occasion arises to watch two nations’ best rugby players go at it here in the States. With tickets for the Eagles’ match against Uruguay starting at $15, it will be difficult to find an excuse not to be in attendance when the U.S.A. has an opportunity to qualify for the IRB Rugby World Cup 2015.
Make sure to get your RWC Qualifier tickets now, as the prices will go up March 22.
5) See the Player Pathway in effect
The Men’s Eagles have witnessed an influx of young talent earning caps in recent years. Impressively enough, this roster includes three Eagles who were playing college rugby this time last year, as well as two fellow teammates who are currently splitting time between training with the Eagles and their college team.
This past May, Cam Dolan (Life University), Tim Maupin and Nick Wallace (Saint Mary’s College) were playing for collegiate rugby’s Division 1A National Championship. Now each of them is a multi-capped Eagle, and Dolan plays professionally for English rugby club Northampton Saints of the Aviva Premiership.
Seamus Kelly and Kyle Sumsion of Cal and BYU, respectively, are also on the Eagles roster. Both have been granted leave from their college teams in order to represent their country and play rugby at its highest level.
The addition of current collegiate players and recent graduates to the Eagles roster is proof that the number of college programs that train and compete in varsity atmospheres is growing. It also shows that there is a direct pathway for young rugby players in America who work hard enough and are coached by some of the game’s best to earn their way into the Eagles player pool.
4) Four Eagles could earn their first cap
The majority of the roster for the Uruguay qualifiers played together in November. As far as a few of the surprise additions to the team, four members of the squad will earn their first cap for the Eagles XV by stepping onto the pitch in either of the two upcoming tests.
Miles Craigwell and Shalom Suniula are veterans of the Eagles Sevens team, with numerous caps under their belt playing the faster code of rugby. Currently playing at BYU, Kyle Sumsion is a collegiate All-American who did enough at the Eagles' two recent domestic camps to earn a spot on the roster as a loose forward. Finally, Tom Coolican beat out capped Eagle Zach Fenoglio to fill out the most recent Eagle roster. Coolican is most likely to be Phil Thiel’s backup at hooker.
3) Smith and Stanfill are back!
Head Coach Mike Tolkin’s options at lock have grown with the return of Louis Stanfill and Hayden Smith. Stanfill was not up for consideration for the Eagles fall tests while recovering from shoulder surgery. Now at full strength and training with Seattle-OPSB, Stanfill could start opposite of Samu Manoa at lock.
Hayden Smith is back in the fold with the Eagles now that he has returned to playing rugby. Following his release from the National Football League’s New York Jets in August, Smith rejoined the Aviva Premiership’s Saracens. Smith hasn’t run with the Eagles since playing in all four of the team’s matches at the IRB Rugby World Cup 2011, but his selection to the Eagles roster shows that he is in fine form and ready to contribute.
2) International flavor on the roster
Considering the continuing trend of U.S.A.-eligible players signing contracts to play rugby professionally oversees, it is no surprise that more and more professionals are called to duty when IRB test windows open. This Eagles roster consists of 14 players that are currently playing the game professionally.
The most recent signees of pro contracts from this group include: Cam Dolan, Luke Hume, Titi Lamositele, Toby L’Estrange and Folau Niua.
With so many Eagles training full time and competing against some of the world’s best, it bodes well for the team as a whole. The majority of this roster played together in November, so expect the team to become reacquainted on the pitch fairly quickly while preparing for the series’ first match March 22.
1) IRB Rugby World Cup 2015 qualification is on the line
The importance of these two matches against Uruguay can’t be stated enough. The Rugby World Cup is the biggest stage for rugby, and ultimately what every training session and match is geared towards – qualifying and excelling at the World Cup.
After entering 2014 on the heels of back-to-back November wins, qualifying for the World Cup with two more wins against Uruguay would build massive momentum heading towards a summer which consists of matches with Scotland, Japan and Canada.
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