Last summer the High School All Americans toured South America, and came away with a lot of good feelings. In an intense trip that saw the team play five internationals in 18 days, and come away with three wins, one close loss, and one not-close loss, it all seemed to make sense.
But that one not-close loss was at the hands of the Argentina U18s, which torched the HSAA squad 52-3.
High School All American Head Coach Salty Thompson learned a lesson or two from the visit. He saw his players adjust to a forward-oriented style of play that used the kick with effectiveness. But he also saw the team stymied by a much more physical and powerful Argentina squad at the end of the tour.
So he has picked a team that focuses on power and size up front, and commitment to fitness.
And he did that because this tour, with two games against the Cordoba Academy and two games against the Argentina U18s, will be much, much more challenging.
“Last year we had to beg to get one game with Argentina,” said Thompson. “This year, I guess they got something out of it, because we were able to get two games. But we also know it’s going to be a huge challenge. That’s the point. We saw where we are last year, and where we need to be if we’re going to compete against Tier I countries. We could go 0-4.”
Putting his team together, Thompson opted for size. One of the biggest lacks in American age-grade rugby has been height. Tall athletes are off playing basketball or football. But this year, he has some serious height. Sophomore Justin Allen, who plays for Portadown in Ireland, is 6-10 Siaosi Mahoni of the East Palo Alto Razorbacks is 6-7, and also a sophomore. Players at 6-4 are a rarity on this team, and Thompson has three players at that height, plus Mahoni, and Prince William HS sophomore Andrew Naylor, who is 6-6.
He has also picked for power. Titi Lamositele is already on the senior national team radar as a prop at only 18, is a 6-0, 250-pound front-rower from the Chuckanut club in Washington state (which has produced Eagle props Shawn Pittman and Nick Wallace), and those 250 pounds are all muscle. Hawaiian hooker Suwaiter Poch, Jr. is 230 pounds, No. 8 Anthony Fotu (Hayward) is 255, and Valdemar Lee-Lo (Dixon) is 250. Overall, the entire team averages over 200 pounds, something Thompson has never seen before.
“We’ve got some big guys, but players who have been working really hard,” said the coach. “What we know we have top do is be as physical as we can be up front. This is the game the Tier I nations are playing and we have to be prepared for it.”
Among the players fans should watch, Lamositele has immense potential. Scrumhalf Mike Reid, now playing with the Taranaki Academy in New Plymouth, New Zealand, where the senior Eagles spent two weeks during the 2011 World Cup, has grown as a leader and an athlete. Shifty-running Pride Rugby back Christian Adams could cause all kinds of problems for the young Pumas, while prop Jesus Arias and 6-4 wing David Kucharski could also be breakout players.
Nebraska’s own Hanco Germishuys emerged as a talent at flanker in the spring, and Vili Helu was all kinds of destructive power at No. 8 for Danville. Meanwhile, on the smaller side, Gonzaga's Ben Cima is a strong goalkicker - something they will need on this trip as points won't be easy to come by.
All of these players are confident, good athletes, fit, and strong. Now they will go against a team that knows how to play defense and knows how to handle a tough game. The Americans will have to not only have to be strong, but stay strong.