MURRAY — The United States Under-20 national team will try to qualify for the championship of the Junior World Rugby Trophy tournament when it takes on Russia today at 6 p.m.
Because the Americans won their first two matches in Pool A of the eight-team international rugby tournament, they only need a win, draw or lose by less than seven points to advance.
"We'll try to keep going and play our systems," said U.S. full back Madison Hughes. "We believe if we just play our game, we will come out on top against anyone because we have a lot of great players. Everyone gets better from game to game, so Russia will be a tough test."
Hughes has been on fire, running and kicking himself to the top of the tournament's individual points list. His 51 points in the first two games is 24 better than his next rival and he is just 21 off the all-time record.
South Jordan's Tua Laei knows all about scoring from the full back position, something he played as a freshman at BYU. For the U.S. team, Laei has moved to center.
"It's more physical, and it's a lot more grinding," Laei said. "I'm enjoying it. It's a lot different than running onto the ball and scoring, so it's like you're setting up the try. At BYU, I was told wings and full backs are supposed to finish. That's what I did all year at BYU, now I'm setting up the finishers."
Laei, who is staying with the team in the University of Utah's dorms for the duration of the two-week tournament, won a national title with the Cougars — something he relishes because his roommate, Alex Goff, played for Arkansas State. That's notable because that's the team BYU beat 49-42 in the title game at Rio Tinto Stadium.
"We're talking about it all the time," said Laei, who scored once and set up another in Friday's 54-25 win over Chile. "Playing the best of the other countries ... there's not other experience (like that). I think we can do big things and go on to the championship. We'll see where we go from Russia."
If they do advance, the Americans will take on either Japan or Georgia, who face off today at 2 p.m. to determine the winner of Pool B. Tuesday's other matches include Canada vs. Zimbabwe at noon and Tonga vs. Chile at 4 p.m.
The championship will be played on Saturday at 6 p.m.
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Junior World Rugby
Match Day 3
Murray Park Rugby Stadium
Canada vs. Zimbabwe, noon
Japan vs. Georgia, 2 p.m.
Tonga vs. Chile, 4 p.m.
United States vs. Russia, 6 p.m.
Tickets are $5 for a day pass