AIG MJAAs Developmental Team beats Canada's under-19s for series victory

CHULA VISTA, Calif. - The first AIG Men's Junior All-Americans Developmental Team won its series with Rugby Canada's under-19 squad, winning the second of two matchups Monday, Jan. 2, at the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center.

All but one member (injured) of the 34-player team selected prior to the holiday period saw the field in southern California, with an extra three reserves available to both squads for the Dec. 30 and Jan. 2 matches. Experienced half back Ruben de Haas, a World Rugby U20 Trophy veteran, served as vice captain in MJAA Head Coach JD Stephenson's squad across both match days behind captain and No. 8 Bailey Wilson. Though the MJAAs dropped the first match, 29-22, their 27-19 defeat in the second encounter propelled them to an aggregate series victory at 49-48.

"Our outcome from this camp as a program in the age-grade pathway was to have players experience the daily grind of a tournament environment and place emphasis on areas in which we found we could further up-skill from a tactical standpoint," Stephenson said. "Exposing players to the standard of play the Canadians brought was a great experience for the players.

"Timing around these assemblies is never ideal with the holiday season; however, we were extremely impressed with the professionalism, conduct, and attitude of the players at camp and are grateful for their time and commitment."

Wearing blue against Canada's white strip, the debut under-19 All-Americans were made to grow into the series. While Canada had held five training camps in preparation for its team selection, the MJAA program collaborated with Boys High School All-Americans Head Coach Salty Thompson in addition to using three Evaluation Camps to decide upon a touring squad. The younger group proved a physical test for Canada in the first match, but struggled to turn possession into first-half points.

Despite Canada's offensive pressure leading to a 22-0 score line after 40 minutes, the MJAAs responded well in the second half. Substitutes rolled onto the field with purpose and helped acclimate the team to the international rugby conditions. The All-Americans conceded just the one try in the second frame, but it was enough for Canada to escape with the 29-22 'W.'

It was not a tale of opposites between the two matches, but a slight shift in the lineup and a more-prepared group of athletes took it to Canada Monday. The MJAAs jumped out to an early lead and defended their try zone effectively, holding up several potential scoring plays in-goal. The team's work on the set pieces in the short rest period also paid dividends, starving Canada of the possession it earned too easily at times in the first matchup.

The All-Americans did benefit from a Canadian yellow card heading into the second half as the border rival looked to grab the advantage it had assumed previously in southern California. A late try and two non-scoring attacks that reached the try line highlighted the visitors' expansive play, but it was the home side that finished off the series with a 27-19 victory.

Stephenson commended his young squad on its ability to respond to the international challenge of a test-match-like series with only a few days' preparation, which was also made possible by the work of the volunteer coaching staff. Over the course of the week-long assembly, the athletes buckled down to enhance their understanding of the national team patterns of play in addition to the mental capacity required to compete in a high performance setup. The coaches were developing, as well, in working with a newer group of players.

"We were fortunate to have the support of our men's 15s and sevens national teams to provide the framework, terminology, and direction of our camp assembly," Stephenson said. "The coaching and management staff involved in camp were exemplary, volunteering their time and providing a professional and conducive coaching environment for the players and coaches alike."

There are no more scheduled assemblies for the newest age-grade team in 2017 as the MJAAs' focus returns to qualifying for this year's U20 Trophy in Uruguay. A Developmental Camp will be held in Chula Vista Jan. 13-16 ahead of squad selection for the June Qualifier in Canada.

AIG Men's Junior All-Americans Developmental Team | v. Canada (Dec. 30)
1. Jonas Petrakopoulos
2. Dillon Shotwell
3. Kareem Odeh
4. Nafi Maafu
5. Li'a Faletogo-Monis
6. Justin Johnson
7. Jack Miller
8. Bailey Wilson (C)
9. Ruben de Haas
10. Anton Grigoriou
11. Ben Broselle
12. Sean Lumkong
13. Tavite Lopeti
14. Ryan James
15. Patrick Madden

AIG Men's Junior All-Americans Developmental Team | Reserves (Dec. 30)
16. Isiah Taotua
17. Jeremy Ockomichalak
18. David Ainuu
19. Joshua Schnell
20. Joe Rusert-Cuddy
21. Conor McManus
22. Sam Walsh
23. Maanaima Fualaau
24. Campbell Robinson
25. William Mailau
26. Kelsin Pupunu

AIG Men's Junior All-Americans Developmental Team | v. Canada (Jan. 2)
1. Jonas Petrakopoulos
2. Conner Pederson
3. David Ainuu
4. Joshua Schnell
5. Campbell Robinson
6. Nafi Maafu
7. Justin Johnson
8. Bailey Wilson (C)
9. Ruben de Haas
10. Marcos Young
11. Ben Broselle
12. Quinn Perry
13. Sean Lumkong
14. Calvin Gentry
15. Kelsin Papunu

AIG Men's Junior All-Americans | Reserves (Jan. 2)
16. Dillon Shotwell
17. Jeremy Ockomichalak
18. Sean Dowling
19. Will Waguespack
20. William Mailau
21. Conor McManus
22. Sam Walsh
23. Patrick Madden
24. Li'a Faletogo-Monis
25. Sosefo Mailangi-Ray
26. Ryan James

AIG Men's Junior All-Americans Developmental Team | Coaching Staff
JD Stephenson - Head Coach
OJ Hawea - Team Manager
Michael Engelbrecht - Defense Coach
Shawn Pittman - Forwards Coach
Justin Goonan - Head Strength & Conditioning Coach
Jimmy Harrison - Analyst
Rob Randell - Assistant Forwards Coach
Britney Schenck - Physiotherapist