With the Northern Hemisphere’s domestic leagues over and Super Rugby coming to an end, the thoughts of many rugby fans will be turning towards the World Cup and who will make it into each team’s 31-man squad.
As the USA’s professional league Major League Rugby (the MLR) came towards the end of its 2ⁿᵈ season (congratulations to the Seattle Seawolves, who successfully defended their title), USA Eagles Head Coach Gary Gold named a 50-man training squad to prepare for the World Cup, with 40 of them set to get together for the Pacific Nations Cup. The squad contains a number of stars from the MLR, along with foreign-based Americans and 3 players form the 7s squad who came 2ⁿᵈ to Fiji in this season’s World Sevens Series. Unfortunately, soon after the announcement of the squad they were hit by Samu Manoa retiring from international rugby, while Folau Niua would have probably been in contention for a place in the squad until he suffered a serious leg injury in the season-ending Paris 7s.
Regular readers of this blog will know that I have a soft spot for USA rugby and I am loving the way that the sport is growing across the pond. As such, I decided to make them the next team for my series of World Cup squad predictions. This was by far the hardest for me to put together so far, as though I have a soft spot for USA rugby, I have generally found them harder to follow as I found it hard to follow the MLR and World Sevens Series this season beyond YouTube highlights packages (which are very poor in the case of the MLR are very poor), while match times and broadcasting makes it difficult to watch the USA play on a regular basis.
When putting these squads together, I usually take a look at the position breakdown for a team or their Head Coach from their last couple of World Cups as a starting point, but given how much things have changed for rugby in the USA since 2015, I have instead looked at the players available and used a similar position break down to other teams I have predicted.
Journey to RWC2019 series:
- Predicting the Wales squad
- Predicting the Scotland squad
- Predicting the Italy squad
- Predicting the Ireland squad
- Predicting the Fiji squad
- Predicting the England squad
So without further ado, I think that Gary Gold will select…
If you’re part of the Saracens squad then you have to be a player of some quality, so Titi Lamositeli was an obvious first pick here. Beyond that, things got harder as I recognised the names Eric Fry and Olive Kilife from the 2015 tournament, so they were initially making my list until I realised that neither of them played in the most recent Americas Rugby Championship. As a result, I replaced them with the other regulars from that tournament Dino Waldren, Paul Mullen and Chance Wenglewski. For the 5ᵗʰ spot at prop, I have gone for David Ainu’u, who I don’t know anything about but did feature in the ARC and must be a good quality player to be part of the Toulouse squad. I can’t imagine that he will play much in this tournament but at just 19 years old, this will be great experience for him with a view to 2023.
As the player with the most international tries of any tight five in word rugby, Worcester’s Joe Taufete’e is the clear starter going into the tournament, while his backup appears to be All-MLR 1ˢᵗ XV pick Dylan Fawsitt. The final spot likely depends on whether Gary Gold wants to go for experience (taking James Hilterbrand) or look to the future again with Kapeli Pifileti, who turns 20 a month before the tournament. As a 3ʳᵈ choice hooker, whoever goes will probably not get many minutes, so I think that Pifileti gets the nod here, similar to Ainu’u.
Samu Manoa’s retirement probably hits more in this position than it does in the back row, but there are still good options at lock. Nick Civetta and Greg Peterson have become the regular pairing in the second row so are clear favourites to be picked, along with regular replacement and RUNY’s All-MLR 1ˢᵗ team lock Nate Brakely. For the final spot, Lou Stanfill’s place in the All-MLR 2ⁿᵈ team will do his chances no harm, but he hasn’t been capped since the last World Cup, so I envisage him missing out in favour of Ealing’s Ben Landry, who has played 18 times since February 2016.
Hanco Germishuys, John Quill and All-MLR 2ⁿᵈ team number 8 Cam Dolan have become the regular back row trio and with Samu Manoa retired, I can’t see that changing. Tevita Tameilau has also been a regular in the 23 of late and if USA are considering him as an option at lock and in the back row then he will surely travel to Japan. This leaves 2 spaces in my 6-strong back row, which I feel will go to former college football linebacker Psalm Wooching and USA 7s player Ben Pinkelman, who will add different dynamics into the position group.
The regular one-two punch at 9 for the Eagles recently has been Shaun Davies and Ruben de Haas, so it will be a shock if either of these players misses out on a spot in the squad. Nate Augspurger and Mike Petri made the All-MLR 1ˢᵗ and 2ⁿᵈ teams respectively this season, so both have every chance of forcing their way onto the plane, but I give the advantage to Augspurger as he can also play wing, giving Gold extra options in the squad.
The obvious selection here is Sale’s AJ MacGinty, who stood out to me 4 years ago and has only improve since then. When MacGinty has not been available, the go-to replacement has been Glendale Raptors’ Will Magie, who will surely make it onto the plane. Despite winning back-to-back MLR titles, Ben Cima has not played for the Eagles since March 2018, so I think that he misses out on a place here as there is fly half cover elsewhere in the squad.
Former NFL fullback Paul Lasike gives a hard-running option at 12 and has developed a solid partnership with Bryce Campbell. Thretton Palamo has struggled to get consistent rugby in recent years so I think he misses out this time in place of USA 7s’ Martin Iosefo.
As captain and one of the players with the most experience in a top league, it will be a shock if Blaine Scully were to miss out on a place in the squad. Will Hooley can cover fly half as well as fullback, while Marcel Brache is also able to cover both 15 and wing. Madison Hughes adds big-game experience and leadership even if he is more commonly found on the Sevens circuit. Mike Te’o has looked dangerous for the national team and was having a strong MLR campaign before injury, so as long as he is fit, he will surely take the final spot in the back 3.
So those are my picks for the USA 31-man World Cup squad, who do you think makes the list and how well do you think they will do in a tough pool?