MURRAY — United States Junior All-Americans captain Will Magie is growing out a beard. Sort of. Kind of.
"All of the forwards (on the team) haven't shaved, well all the forwards who have taken the pact haven't shaved since we assembled on June 4," the baby-faced Magie said Tuesday after his team defeated Russia to advance to Saturday's Junior World Rugby Trophy title game. "Since we started winning, I haven't shaved. Mine is still a bit of bum fluff, though."
Magie's growing beard is kind of representative of USA Rugby's growth on the international stage. With rugby sevens becoming an Olympic sport in 2016, investment and interest in the development of America's national side is growing. A week ago the senior men's squad played Italy in front of a record crowd in Houston.
Today The Eagles' under-20 squad will play in the JWRT final at 6 p.m. at Murray Park's rugby stadium.
If they win, they will be promo ted to the higher-tier tournament, the Junior World Championship, gaining valuable experience in the run-up to the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Astonishingly, the U.S. has been the defending Olympic champion for the last 88 years. The Americans upset France in the gold medal match held in Paris in 1924, the last time rugby was played in the Olympics.
In this championship match, the U.S. will have to get by a tough Japan team, which is also undefeated in the JWRT. After two narrow wins, the Japanese overpowered a strong Georgian side on Tuesday.
"They are a great side," U.S. winger Kingsley McGowan said. "They run beautiful lines, they all know the game very well. They are very technically sound. We just have to match that and pick up our hustle and aggression to really push us forward in the Japan game."
MISSING FINGERS NO PROBLEM: McGowan been one the American's top scoring threats — he scored three tries against Canada in a friendly before the JWRT — sporting shifty moves and blazing speed to go with his bright boots.
He excelled in his first year at St. Mary's, despite being introduced to the game at the age of 16 in Texas.
"I'm picking it up slowly, but surely," he said, adding that the JWRT play is much faster than the college game.
"It's quicker decision making. In (college) you have time; you can get by with just athleticism. (Here) you have to know the game. You have to be ready for that certain change, say something goes wrong, you have to make that adjustment."
He said that's the ultimately the key to the game — certainly not worrying about the fact he is missing two fingers in each hand. It was something he was born with, the result of a congenital condition called amniotic band syndrome. McGowan said he doesn't think about it and forgot about it until he was asked about it after the Americans' tournament-opening win over Tonga.
TONGANS FEEL AT HOME: The U-20 Tonga team is playing nearly 6,000 miles away from home, it's players have received constant support from the many Tongans living in the Salt Lake Valley on the field — and off.
"It's awesome," said forward Wilson Lavelua. "We feel like we're just in Tonga, that we're back home."
While the crowd at Murray Park has been very loud in cheering for their homeland, they've also brought food and drinks and gifts during training, he said.
"We appreciate it so much," said Lavelua, whose team will be playing in the third-place match against Georgia at 4 p.m. "We're so grateful to be in this place with so many Tongans. That's another thing to (play for), to please them and make them proud."
Jr. World Rugby Trophy
Murray Park's rugby stadium
Zimbabwe vs. Russia, noon
Canada vs. Chile, 2 p.m.
Tonga vs. Georgia, 4 p.m.
United States vs. Japan, 6 p.m.
All-day tickets cost $5 and all games will be streamed live at deseretnews.com