Age-Grade Assembly, Matches Prove Successful in Player Development
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – The U.S. High School All-Americans and the U.S. Under-20 Team wrapped up its week-long assembly at the University of California – Santa Barbara with a second international double-header on Sunday, Jan. 3, which showed significant improvement from both age-grade teams.
In the High School All-Americans match, the U.S. side again defeated their Canadian counterparts finishing with a score of 32-5.
Although the U.S. High School All-Americans (HSAA’s) lacked a bit of discipline in the first half, giving up the ball on 50/50 passes and off-loads, penalties and by not securing the ball at the breakdown, the U.S. was still able to hold on to a 7-5 lead at halftime.
At the half, the young side focused on tightening up these areas and it paid dividends. The HSAA’s stuck to the tactical kicking game plan and use of midfield attackers in the first half enabling them to change tactics and attack out wide in the second half.
“Their execution was excellent in the second half, and allowed us to run in three tries,” said Assistant Coach Michael Engelbrecht. “Our areas of focus following the first match centered on setting the fringe defense, first phase backline defense and pace of attacking runners. It was great to watch these young players go through the process of understanding the need for these adjustments and then implementing them to reap the rewards.”
In the end, the U.S. HSAA’s finished 2-0 against the Canadian Under-17s and built a great base of skills as they move forward into the new year.
In the latter match, the U.S. Under-20 National Team showed marked improvement despite a 41-16 defeat to the New Zealand Universities Under-21s in their second of two matches against the Kiwis.
“The scoreline does not do justice to how competitive this match was,” Head Coach Ray Lehner said. “I was really proud of how our guys battled, I challenged them to raise the level of physicality from the first match and they did. I think any onlooker would say we had the better of them physically for the first half, especially at the tackle contest an area we targeted.”
“There were some standout performances from our back row, and flanker Tyler Colin was selected as man of the match by the New Zealand side, even though he had to come off early.
The U.S. Under-20s standout wing, Naaki Angilau, scored the first try of the match with text book execution of a midfield scrum move just around a minute in to the match.
The New Zealand side countered in the fifth minute and although the Kiwi’s made their conversion, the U.S. quickly gained back their lead with two penalties by Joe Cowley. The Under-20s held their 11-7 lead for the next 10 minutes, before letting the New Zealand side score three-consecutive tries to finish the half up 24-11.
“We played great for the first 30 minutes and then let off the gas and leaked a couple tries right before the half,” Lehner said. “We knew all along that we were going to be up against a great team. The Kiwi’s were precise and clinical, with great finishers out wide.”
The New Zealand Universities scored three more tries in the second half to extend their lead to 30 points. But, the U.S. was able to score a final try and end the match on a high note.
“These matches are important parts of the age-grade journey,” Lehner finished. “Despite the Under-20s losing both matches, we got better at specific skill areas we targeted for this assembly. We also got some personnel questions answered as to who projects to the next level.”
The U.S. age-grade players will now return to play for their respective high school, collegiate, and men’s clubs for the domestic spring season. All players will be given individual development programs with areas to focus on improvement. Both the HSAA’s and Under-20s are planning on touring in the early summer and will then transition to the next year’s age group with a large domestic assembly.
“Overall, we are extremely pleased with how the camp went,” Matt Sherman, USA Rugby’s Age Grade Director said. “Watching both teams first few training sessions in comparison to the final matches was like night and day, with significant improvement. Furthermore, it was great to strike a good balance between continuing to focus on developing core skills in these younger players, but also being able to test those skills under significant pressure, as well as develop tactical understanding, in an international match. Overall, the players rose to the challenge put in front of them, and the coaching staff from both teams did a very good job of continuing to develop our best young players.”
More details about the upcoming age-grade camps will be released shortly. For more information on the Men’s National Teams, please visit www.usarugby.org/goto/national_teams.
USA HSAA 32, Canada U-17s 5 (7-5 halftime)
Tries: Will Magie, Adam Sandstrom, Tommy Flynn, Chuck Koehler
Conv: Magie (3)
Drop goal: Magie
New Zealand Universities 41, USA Under-20s 16 (24-11 halftime)
Tries: Naaki Angilau, Dimitri Efithimiouiu
Penalties: Joe Cowley (2)