In winning the Junior World Rugby Trophy, Scott Lawrence, Will Magie, and crew have prompted reevaluation of age-grade success.
America's Under-20 team is 13th in the world. Its senior national team is 17th. USARFU's primary competitive goal is a quarterfinal berth at the 2015 World Cup.
Is avoiding relegation at the 2013 Junior World Championship meaningful progress? What if next year's team plays still better, against assuredly better opposition, but fails to win any games and so falls back to the JWRT?
The USA U20 team now has five campaigns under its belt. Converted from a U19 outfit, the squad began preparing in fall 2007 for the 2008 JWC, then a 16-team tournament. Losing all of its its pool matches as well as a pair of playoff games, it was relegated to the JWRT. A year later, America nearly bounced right back, reaching the finals before falling to Romania. After skipping the 2010 tournament partly due to scheduling -- the competition's subsequent shift to after the school year has helped the USA's cause -- 2011 was a forgettable 1-3, all of the losses suffered in pool play.
With much of 2012's 27-man roster apparently eligible to compete again, the 2013 edition might well hold its own. Only 4 are presently 20 years old. This year's return of Magie, the Leeds University flyhalf, and Madison Hughes, the Dartmouth fullback (by way of England's Wellington College), proved vital in going from 1 to 6 wins (including a pair of pre-tournament victories over Canada).
Experience also looks to have helped the coaching staff. Appointed in October 2010, Lawrence and three of his assistants traveled to the 2011 tournament in Georgia.
If reaching the top 8 in 40 months is a serious goal, however, then the definition of age-grade success ought to include individual development -- the number of players progressing from the U20 to the senior national team. As the junior team is ranked higher than the senior XV, one should expect a relatively high percentage to advance, compared with our rivals.
From November 2007 through June 2011, some 94 U20 players represented the USA, according to USARFU's web site. To date, 4 have gone to play for the Eagles: forwards Scott Lavalla (U20 debut: December 2007, test debut: June 2010), Taylor Mokate (December 2007, June 2012), and Shawn Pittman (December 2007, November 2009) and back Tai Enosa (April 2009, June 2011). (Note: Back Thretton Palamo played for the senior team at the 2007 World Cup before he played for the U20 side in 2008.)
Will any of the JWRT squad advance to this fall's 'sub international' Americas Rugby Championship? What about the other age-grade program, the Collegiate All-Americans, which last summer posted a convincing series win over New Zealand Universities Under 21?
The final chapter of the USA's 2012 JWRT championship will be finished only when one can count the starters at the 2015 World Cup, already just three seasons away.
United States Under 20: 2012 Junior World Rugby Trophy Champions
Forwards: Nick Barrett (Minnesota State), Pierce Dargan (Trinity College), Cameron Falcon (Louisiana State), Alex Goff (Arkansas State), Henry Hall (Auckland Univ.), Caspar Huizenga (Kutztown), Angus MacLellan (Davenport), Maika Moala (Titans), Tim O'Hara (Santa Clara), Aladdin Schirmer (Central Washington), Mike Te'o (Belmont Shore), Glen Thommes (Delaware), Vei Tomasi (Oakland Warthogs), Teli Veamatahau (Metropolis), Travis Whitlock (Back Bay)
Backs: Tanner Barnes (Central Washington), Nick Boyer (California), Iniki Fa'amausili (Glendale), Madison Hughes (Dartmouth), Pasefika Iosia (Belmont Shore), Tua Laei (Brigham Young), Sione Letoi (Tempe), Will Magie (captain, Leeds Univ.), Kingsley McGowan (St. Mary's), Eakalafi Okusi (California), Alex Taefu (Tempe), Noah Tarrant (Oceanside)
Management: Scott Lawrence (coach), Gavin Hickie (forwards), Jason Kelly (backs), Vaha Esikia (skills), Justin Goonan (strength & conditioning), Mike Damantopolous (video), Ben Cowin (medical), Justin Hickey (manager)