Seventeen PRO Rugby players have been called up to three different national teams for the June test window. The USA Eagles account for eleven of those players, a number that may be a bit lighter than many had expected. One part of the equation that was not always so certain was the level of cooperation of the national sevens program. They are sending six players to the national team assembly along with coach Mike Friday, who will serve as the Eagles’ attack coach. The influx of sevens players means that only a few PRO backs will be playing for the Eagles this June.
The bulk of PRO Rugby’s impact on the squad will be in the front row, where they have six of the eight players selected. Outside of that group, no other position is represented by more than one player from the league. One of the more notable snubs is David Tameilau, a key player from the Americas Rugby Championship squad that has played decently in the first part of the PRO Rugby season. He misses out as the team opts for a couple of debutants: Super Rugby flanker Tony Lamborn and Old Blue’s Harry Higgins.
The other national teams to select PRO Rugby players are Canada, who have brought in the entire contingent of Canadian PROs with the exception of Phil Mackenzie, and Tonga, who selected wing Pila Iongi from San Francisco. Tonga may look to PRO Rugby for more players in the future as the league boasts a fair number of players who are eligible for ‘Ikale Tahi.
As for the impact on the PRO squads, here’s a team-by-team breakdown:
Denver: Chris Baumann (USA), Chad London (USA), Brodie Orth (USA), Ben Tarr (USA)
Four players from Denver are in the Eagles assembly, and the team has the depth to cover for them adequately. Even with Baumann and Tarr away, the front row should be fine in a league where all of the teams will suddenly be missing their best tighthead props. Orth has only started two of Denver’s five matches, presumably due to injury, and their second row has done well in his absence. Chad London’s call-up gives players like Martin Knoetze and Michael Al-Jiboori a chance to get back into the lineup.
Ohio: Kyle Baillie (Canada), Shaun Davies (USA), Angus MacLellan (USA)
Shaun Davies has finally worked his way back into the national team after a stellar start to the season with Ohio, and his absence will have a big effect on the backline. The loss of Angus MacLellan is minimized by the fact that every team is missing someone in the front row. Kyle Baillie’s call-up is another shot to the already shallow depth of Ohio’s second row.
Sacramento: Ray Barkwill (Canada), Olive Kilifi (USA)
Sacramento is the one team that may be a little more concerned about the hit to their front row, as they lose two key members. However, they also only play one game during the international break and that one match is against a Denver squad that is also missing two members of its front row.
San Diego: Hubert Buydens (Canada), Jake Ilnicki (Canada), Taku Ngwenya (USA), Joe Taufete’e (USA), Mike Te’o (USA)
The Southern California squad got hit the hardest and still managed to dodge a few bullets as both Phil Mackenzie and Kurt Morath made themselves unavailable for international selection. The front row will be hurting without Hubert Buydens and Joe Taufate’e, but that situation has been fairly unsettled all season long. Jake Ilnicki, another prop, had just appeared in San Diego and could start this weekend, but he will be whisked away nearly as quickly. Takudzwa Ngwenya will be replaced a little more easily, with Tim Stanfill and Pono Haitsuka waiting in the wings (pun entirely intended), but its not clear who moves to fullback to replace Mike Te’o, who has been a huge catalyst for San Diego’s attacking play this year.
San Francisco: Nick Blevins (Canada), Tom Coolican (USA), Pila Iongi (Tonga)
San Francisco has not had Tom Coolican in the lineup since the end of April and losing him for another few matches is less than optimal for the Bay Area squad. Nick Blevins and Pila Iongi have both played their part in a potent attack that had found its footing in the past few matches, but the back line will add Mils Muliaina to the mix this weekend and should be able to fill the gaps thanks to the versatility of its back line players. If nothing else, there’s a few backs at SFGG that should be able to play competently at this level in a pinch.