Local resident continues stay with USA national rugby team

East Palo Alto resident Folau Niua will make his third start for the United States' Eagles rugby team on Saturday when the Americans open World Cup Qualifying against host Urugary.

Niua began his rugby career with the East Palo Alto Razorbacks, winning a Division II National Championship in 2009.

The newer players add youth to the Eagles, though U.S. coach Mike Tolkin does not expect any one of them to be a step behind.

"They're fitting in very well," he said. "I think the important thing about those guys is most of them did two camps with us over three weeks. So they really got the system down, they're playing with confidence, and they got some hard game time against Life University. So they're right in with the system and the pros."

Todd Clever will captain the Eagles in his 55th appearance from the blindside flanker position alongside Scott LaValla at openside flanker. Hayden Smith returns to the team for the first time since his last appearance at the IRB Rugby World Cup 2011.

"Right now we're really fortunate to have some size, power and athleticism in the second row," Tolkin said. "I think the thing that really reflects that is that Tai Tuisamoa is not dressing for the game. He's a fantastic impact player and we had to make a tough decision with him, but it reflects where we are.'

Mike Petri gets the start at scrumhalf with Toby L'Estrange behind him at flyhalf. Cam Dolan will wear the No. eight jersey for the Eagles.

Andrew Suniula will play at center with Niua, while Blaine Scully will man Maupin's opposite wing outside of Chris Wyles at fullback. Eleven of the Eagles' starting XV are currently playing professionally overseas, while Lamositele and Luke Hume represent overseas professionals on the bench.

The Eagles have lost to Uruguay once in 12 matchups, back in 2002 in Montevideo. Since then, they have a plus-129 point differential against Los Teros in six wins, with the most recent being a two-leg series win ahead of the IRB Rugby World Cup 2011.

The Eagles are also coming off of a strong November Tour, during which they defeated Georgia – who has qualified for next year's Rugby World Cup – and Russia.

"I think we want to play a direct, simple game to start," Tolkin said of the game plan against Uruguay. "In our last game together when we played Russia, we put ourselves in a lot of opportunities to put points on the board but we didn't take advantage because we played a little bit loose."

— Palo Alto Online Sports/USA Rugby


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