Jamason Fa'anana-Schultz, Jack Iscaro, and Cory Daniel are travelling to South Africa to compete in the Toyota Challenge as a warm-up for the upcoming Rugby World Cup Repechage tournament. The Challenge will see them line up against the Cheetahs on October 14 and the Pumas a week later on October 21.
Since this will be a squad consisting exclusively of MLR players, with overseas players bound by club responsibilities, the USA squad will compete as the Falcons instead of as the Eagles. The matches also won't be capped, since they come against club sides rather than international opposition. All players announced as part of the squad were involved in a month-long alignment camp in Glendale to prepare them for the slate of matches this fall. Hopefully we'll see that pay off with better cohesion and preparedness on field.
For Jamason Fa'anana-Schultz, these matches will be his first back from the lengthy suspension he has been serving since early May. On the international stage, he has tended to play at flanker instead of at eightman, where Old Glory fans will be used to seeing him. He was the second-most used flanker for the Eagles in 2021 and is the most experienced flanker on this squad with 6 caps. That's mostly a due to the omission of certain other experienced back-rowers such as Hanco Germishuys and Riekert Hattingh, the later due to a doping suspension. Other potential competitors were also overlooked, such as Atlanta's Jason Damm and San Diego's Tevita Tameilau. This will be a good chance for JFS to re-establish himself in the national setup and find some form prior to the repechage.
For Jack Iscaro and Cory Daniel, this will be a chance to prove themselves on the biggest stage they've yet had. Iscaro has quite a bit of competition at loosehead, with three others named in that position for this tour. However, only one has a significant number of caps at the position in New York's Chance Wenglewski, with 17. Iscaro should be able to grab some time if he shows his potential. For Daniel, this is yet another step in his meteoric rise through the ranks of rugby. He's been increasingly pulled into USA developmental and age-grade sides, but this represents a step up to the top team. He has impressed in MLR with his excellent tackling and defensive awareness, attributes that have sometimes been missing for the USA in recent years. With the flanker position pretty open, he could very well see the pitch. Even if not, though, this will be very valuable experience for a player who only started playing the game a few years ago.
This is actually not the only Falcons action happening this October. Concurrent with the South Africa tour, a second squad will play two matches in South America. This team will be focused more on development and could well feature more Old Glory players, although the roster has yet to be announced. Owen Sheehy has participated in similar teams in the past and, depending on his injury status, we could see Mike Dabulas make a reappearance.
The South Africa team is expected to form the bulk of the roster for the repechage, the last chance that the USA will have to qualify for the Rugby World Cup in 2023. It will have USA head coach Gary Gold's full attention and features most of the big names of previous Eagles squads. However, Gold has also made it clear that positions are open for competition and that players from both squads will be included in the repechage. Some players have specifically been placed on the South America team in order to get them more match time, which could explain some of the curious absences from the South Africa team.
It's great to see Old Glory players taking the next step into the national team, and it will be exciting to see makes it into the final squad. It's a reminder that, despite a rough season last year, OGDC is brimming with young talent.