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USA Eagles rugby team looks to build momentum today against Canada

Published: Friday, Jun. 20, 2014 - 11:28 pm
Last Modified: Sunday, Jun. 22, 2014 - 11:34 am

Beating Canada in today’s international rugby match at Bonney Field is more than about the USA Eagles ending a seven-match losing streak to their northern neighbors.

It’s also about building momentum toward what will be one of the most anticipated matches in USA Rugby history on Nov. 1.

On that date, the Eagles will play reigning World Cup champion and the top-ranked New Zealand All Blacks at Soldier Field in Chicago. It’s New Zealand’s first match in the United States since 1980.

About 30,000 tickets already have been sold for the first nationally televised (NBC) rugby match in the U.S. since the 2011 World Cup.

Some think the Eagles, ranked No. 18 internationally, are setting themselves up for a nationally televised flop against the world’s most dominant rugby team.

Eagles veteran Louie Stanfill admits the odds will be stacked against the Americans, but they will have the home-field advantage.

“A win over (New Zealand) would be like Appalachian State beating Michigan (in college football),” Stanfill said, referring to the famous 2007 upset.

But Eagles coach Mike Tolkin sees no downside.

“There is nothing to lose and everything to gain,” Tolkin said. “You are playing the No. 1 team in the world, it’s on national TV and we sold 20,000 tickets the first four days after the announcement.

“Although it will be a massive challenge, we need to be playing against the world’s best. It will only help grow the game in the United States.”

Blue Devil joins in – The former Jesuit High School trio of Stanfill, Blaine Scully and Eric Fry aren’t the only locals making a homecoming today for the Eagles.

Former Davis High football and basketball player Thretton Palamo has been added to the Eagles’ roster for the Pacific Nations Cup match. Palamo’s father, Arona, played internationally for Samoa in the 1970s and ’80s before enrolling at UC Davis. Thretton’s older brothers, Toshi and Seta, played Sevens for the USA.

Thretton holds a place in the World Cup history books. He earned his first international cap at the IRB Rugby World Cup in South Africa in 2007, eight days after turning 19. He is the youngest to ever play in a Rugby World Cup match.

After briefly giving up rugby in 2011 to play football at Utah, which he said helped him become stronger and more physical, Palamo now hopes to have an impact for the Eagles in next year’s Rugby World Cup in England.

American hustle – With no pro league at home, Americans are left to try to earn roster spots on European teams, looking to make a full-time living while improving their performance.

Fry and Scully have contracts with clubs at the top of English rugby, where they hope to pave the way for others.

Fry, a tighthead prop, played second division in New Zealand, then starred for the second-division London Scottish. That recently earned him a two-year contract with the Newcastle Falcons of the first division Aviva Premiership.

“I pretty much had to live off savings while in New Zealand,” Fry said. “My last contract (with London Scottish) in England, I made enough to live off of, though London is an expensive city.”

Scully plays in the Aviva Premiership with the Leicester Tigers, one of England’s most successful club teams. A winger-fullback, Scully joined the club last August on a four-month contract but has since earned a contract that will take him through next season.

Call The Bee’s Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.

Read more articles by Bill Paterson

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