CHULA VISTA, Calif. – The developmental USA Falcons sevens side, coached by Paul Holmes, will embark on a 14-day, two-tournament tour of South America Tuesday, Jan. 3.
Featuring two Men’s Eagles Sevens players capped on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, the Falcons will compete against the likes of Argentina, Canada, and Fiji at Punta del Este 7s in Uruguay Jan. 6-7 and Seven Viña in Chile Jan. 14-15. JP Eloff has been named captain of the squad.
Following Rugby Sevens’ debut at the Rio 2016 Olympic Summer Games and the first two legs of the 2016-17 Series, the Falcons’ tour will pit the players and coaches against competitive international programs to best replicate the elite circuit. Holmes’ team will open the tournament in Uruguay with an all-South American day one, playing Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay in pool play. The following weekend, border rival Canada joins Argentina and the U.S. in pool play, as does Rio gold medalist and defending Sevens Series champion Fiji.
Anthony Welmers saw playing time with the Falcons last year prior to his final spring season with Davenport University, and earned a roster spot with the Eagles for Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens and HSBC Cape Town Sevens last month. He and Aladdin Schirmer provide Holmes and Co. with Series experience as well as a youthful exuberance in the leadership group, led by capped XVs international Eloff.
“South America is a great opportunity for national team coaches to get a look at players at a higher level on an international stage,” Holmes said. “The main objective is always to put a team together that we believe can play and achieve at a high level. It’s obviously expected that these players put their best foot forward and grasp the opportunity at hand.
“JP’s experience is invaluable and I have known and respected him for many years, and watched his progression through college to men’s rugby.”
Eagles pool player Tua Laei recently joined Schirmer and University of Wyoming alum Cody Jerabek on the AIG Men’s Collegiate All-Americans Tour to Queensland sponsored by WellDog last summer, scoring two tries in three matches in Australia. This month’s tour will be his fourth with a U.S. developmental side since his Halloween Rugby 7s invitational tournament performance with the Falcons in the fall of 2015. He is one of five Falcons crossing the equator for the second time in as many years.
Havea Unufe, the 23-year-old brother of the Eagles’ Maka Unufe, has been training at the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center during the 2016-17 membership cycle and will see his first minutes with a developmental national team since a 2012 selection to an MCAA Sevens squad. The MCAA ties continue with Eloff and Charlotte’s Matt Hughston, with University of Delaware graduate Chris Mattina set to perform on the elite stage for the first time since an Elite City Sevens selection in 2014.
Joey Sok was in contention for a Rio place with Team USA and is no stranger to the Falcons, as well, and is in familiar territory with fellow Columbus Rugby Club member Alex Elkins on tour. Kansas City Blues’ Walt Elder is a mobile, physical threat and drew the attention of national team selectors in his club’s runners-up campaign at the 2016 USA Rugby Emirates Airline Club 7s National Championship.
“This tour isn’t going to be easy by any means,” Holmes said. “These guys haven’t played together much and we need to bring things together quickly. We will just take each training and game at a time. I believe in this squad and am excited; relishing the opportunity for these guys. I am expecting them to make USA proud on and off the field.”
There are no public plans to have the Sudamérica Rugby tournaments broadcast to viewers in the United States.
USA Falcons | South America Tour
Walt Elder – Kansas City Blues
Alex Elkins – Columbus Rugby Club / Ohio Aviators
JP Eloff – Chicago Lions Rugby Football Club / Ohio Aviators
Alex Faison-Donahoe – Kutztown University
Matt Hughston – Charlotte Rugby Football Club / Ohio Aviators
Cody Jerabek – Laramie Lumberjacks Rugby Club
Chris Mattina – New York Athletic Club
Aladdin Schirmer – Seattle Saracens
Keaweamahi “Havea” Unufe
Anthony Welmers – Grand Rapids Gazelles Rugby Football Club
USA Falcons | Coaching Staff
Paul Holmes – Head Coach
Kevin Ng – Athletic Trainer
USA Falcons | Punta del Este 7s
v. Uruguay – Friday, Jan. 6 @ 4 p.m. ET
v. Brazil – Friday, Jan. 6 @ 6:40 p.m. ET
v. Argentina – Friday, Jan. 6 @ 9:40 p.m. ET
USA Falcons | Seven Viña
v. Argentina – Saturday, Jan. 14 @ 12:20 p.m. ET
v. Fiji – Saturday, Jan. 14 @ 3 p.m. ET
v. Canada – Saturday, Jan. 14 @ 6:10 p.m. ET