Argentina fielded 7 players aged 23 or less in Sunday’s semifinal, all of them training at home.
Whatever happened to their American contemporaries? None of the 27 who won the 2012 Junior World Rugby Trophy made the USA’s World Cup squad.
Over the past 8 seasons, as more teenage players have come into the game, USARFU has shifted its focus from collegiate representative play to 'scouting combines’. The effect has been to narrow the selection lens.
Some 7 American under-20 players have become full internationals, 2 of them (Cam Dolan and Titi Lamositele) traveling to England this fall. But the 2015 World Cup team’s average age was 27.3, up a full year from 26.3 in 2011, and the contrast with Pumas is highly unfavorable. It seems Boulder is either picking players who don’t project to the test level, or its direct supervision is ineffective.
Despite Scott Lawrence’s 2012 success, U20 coaching changes since 2008 have been frequent. Twice in the past 5 6 years the team has failed to qualify for the JWT, meaning America is regularly outside the top 20.
Of course, World Rugby’s age-grade competition itself poses significant problems. First, most of America’s better teenage players are college students, so mid-spring competition falls at a poor time. Second, the ‘pay to be seen’ combines put the burden on individuals — local unions and territories now being out of the picture — so the opportunity costs are high.
In the bygone debate over Collegiate All-Americans or U20s, talking points favoring the latter included helping the Eagles become younger and plugging into the international system. The Latham-Melville administration may have settled the discussion, but has not delivered the goods.