Utah ready to host Junior World Rugby Trophy tourney

Published: Sunday, June 17 2012 8:10 p.m. MDT

Players from the Junior World Rugby Trophy tournament stand on the steps of the Utah State Capitol.

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Related article: Junior World Rugby Trophy Schedule

Related article: BYU freshman Tua Laei to play in front of home fans at JWRT

MURRAY — Americans, as a whole, have yet to embrace rugby.

Despite being one of the world's most popular games, the United States never has taken enough of an interest to become a world power. However, thanks to investments from the International Rugby Board and USA Rugby's focus on youth player development, a shift is happening.

This change for the better will be on display in Murray for the next 13 days as the United States — and more specifically Utah — will host seven other nations in the Junior World Rugby Trophy tournament for national under-20 teams.

Each squad (United States, Tonga, Chile, Russia, Japan, Georgia, Canada and Zimbabwe) will play three pool matches. The winner from each of the two four-team pools will play in the championship on June 30.

"The winner here qualifies for Tier I next year, so it's a tournament of great importance to the IRB because it provides a vehicle for players, coaches and management to prepare for rugby at an even higher level," said tournament director Tom Jones. "It's here this year particularly because the U.S. is one of the great good-news stories in the world today with magnificent growth in numbers and quality of play."

All the matches of the Tier II tournament will be played over four days at Murray Park's rugby stadium (located near State Street and 5300 South). Play starts today with a quadruple-header at noon and ends with the Americans taking on top-seeded Tonga at 6 p.m.

United States under-20s captain Will Magie, who also played in the tournament last year, says the Americans are "quietly confident."

"They're the pre-tournament favorites," Magie said of the Tongans. "We're seeded, I think, seventh. Everything is pointing in the other direction, but we're hoping to get an upset and win.

"We've had two good wins against Canada, so we know we can perform well against the teams in this tournament."

BYU freshman Tua Laei, who recently joined the team, is among the 26 to make the final roster.

"We're really excited to be hosting," Magie said. "It's a little added pressure on us, but we're excited that we can perform well."

The United States won't be the only team that will have the support of the Utah fans. The state's significant ethnic Tongan population will no doubt be pulling for the team from Tonga, where a rugby ball is a common household item.

"You grow up, and after the bottle it is the second thing you handle, arguably," Jones said. "Tonga comes in as the favorite, yes, but it will be a close one."

Jones says that's because other countries are closing the gaps in numbers of players, the quality of the game and the professionalism of the coaching and preparation.

"You don't get many upsets in rugby, but we anticipate the games will be close here, and some upsets will happen."

Email: amorton@desnews.com

Related article: BYU freshman Tua Laei to play in front of home fans at JWRT

Junior World Rugby Trophy

Match Day 1

Monday, June 18th

Murray Rugby Park

Japan vs. Zimbabwe, noon

Chile vs. Russia, 2 p.m.

Georgia vs. Canada, 4 p.m.

United States vs. Tonga, 6 p.m.

Tickets are $5 for day

All games will be streamed live at deseretnews.com and ksl.com

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