The USA Men’s National Team, the USA Eagles, and the Ireland National Team have named their starting lineups for the Setanta Challenge Cup on set to take place on Sunday, May 31 at Buck Shaw Stadium in Santa Clara, California.
The third annual Setanta Challenge Cup kicks off the Eagles international season as it faces the reigning RBS 6 Nations and Grand Slam Champions, Ireland, and marks former Ireland head coach Eddie O’Sullivan’s first match at the helm of the USA Eagles.
“It is an honor to face Ireland in my first test as Eagles Head Coach. It will be a little strange to face off against a team that I know so well, but at the same time for me that will make the occasion even more special,” Eagles Head Coach Eddie O’Sullivan said.
The U.S. lineup has a fresh look and will see a total of eight new caps awarded, six of which will be in the starting 15. Led by the USA’s 2007 Rugby World Cup prop Mike MacDonald, the forward pack will see four players new to the Eagles squad, including a new hooker and tighthead prop in Chris Biller and Will Johnson, respectively.
John Van der Giessen, a member of the 2007 RWC team, will be joined by Hayden Smith in the second row, while 2007 RWC flanker Louis Stanfill is joined by flanker Peter Dahl and No. 8 Nic Johnson.
In the back line, the U.S. has a little more experience, as Kevin Swiryn and Roland Suniula are the only two uncapped players named to the starting lineup, even though they have both picked up quite a bit of international playing experience with the USA 7’s squad for nearly a year now.
With the start, Swiryn completes his meteoric rise into the USA squad. Just a year removed from being a collegiate All-American, Swiryn worked his way onto the USA 7's team and quickly became one of the top players on the IRB 7's Series. His starting spot at center could be just the first of very many in a budding rugby career.
Anchoring the experience in the backline is veteran flyhalf, and All-Time USA points leader, Mike Hercus, while Mike Petri returns at scrumhalf and takes the reigns as captain of the side while Todd Clever is still playing with his professional club in South Africa.
Junior Sifa, Justin Boyd and Chris Wyles all return as well to give the back line a threatening edge.
“Despite the unavailability of a lot of our players, I believe we have still assembled a very competitive squad, with a good balance of youth and experience. The fact that we don’t have quite a few of our usual players, allows me the opportunity to get a good look at the depth of our squad,” O’Sullivan said.
“With seven games ahead in as many weeks we will get to see everyone in our Eagles pool play and although Ireland is the start of this year’s campaign, our ultimate goal comes at the end of the summer and will be qualifying for the Rugby World Cup.
"Ireland is coming off a test against Canada, which gives them an advantage, but our players have to start somewhere and I’m confident they’ll give it their all in this first test of the season.”
In both team’s first match of the season, Ireland beat Canada, 25-6, just a week ago at the University of British Columbia. Although, that scoreline proved much closer than it had been previously, Ireland’s head coach, Declan Kidney, has only made one change to the lineup set to play the USA this Sunday at Buck Shaw Stadium.
Tight head prop Mike Ross comes into the front row to make his first start after coming off the bench last Saturday against Canada to win his first cap.
Ross’s inclusion means Tony Buckley moves from the right side of the scrum to loose head prop. The reshuffle sees Tom Court move to the replacements to fill the vacancy made by Ross’s elevation to the starting team.
The rest of the pack remains unchanged with Mick O’Driscoll named in the side despite picking up a slight wrist sprain during the game last week. As a precaution, Leinster second row Devin Toner has been called into the squad.
Toner, who was also named in the Churchill Cup squad, will join up with the team later today and will remain on with the other members of the senior squad who will be taking part in the Churchill Cup in Denver which begins in early June.
“We felt that after last weeks game against Canada that the players who started deserved another chance to improve on that performance,” Ireland Coach Declan Kidney said.
“We thought long and hard about making further changes to the side, but with only two full training sessions under their belts before the Canada game, we thought that it would be better to give an opportunity for the same players and combinations to find their feet a bit more with some more sessions to work off.”
Another addition to the squad is Alan Gaffney, who was involved with Leinster’s Heineken Cup win on Saturday but will be now working in his Ireland capacity as backs coach for the remainder of the tour and the Churchill Cup.
“We need to lift our levels from the Canada game if we want to put in a performance that can put us in a position to win. There was a little lack of cohesion in Vancouver which was possibly down to the number of new combinations and the eight new caps we had,” said Ireland Captain Rory Best.
“The game on Sunday gives us a chance to build on last week and will require another huge effort in work rate to allow us to compete with the USA team who will be a real challenge for us playing them at home. The conditions have intensified with the heat a big factor as well as the physical threat that the opposition bring to the game.”
The showdown between the USA and Ireland will begin at 1:00 p.m. (PST).
USA Eagles Lineup
15 - Chris Wyles (Saracens FC)
14 - Kevin Swiryn (Old Puget Sound Beach RFC)*
13 - Junior Sifa (Middleton RFC)
12 - Roland Suniula (Pearl City RFC)*
11 - Justin Boyd (Dallas Harlequins RFC)
10 - Mike Hercus (Sunshine Coast Stingrays)
9 - Mike Petri (New York Athletic Club) Captain
1 - Mike MacDonald (Leeds Carnegie RFC)
2 - Chris Biller (California)*
3 - Will Johnson (Oxford University)*
4 - John Van Der Giessen (Denver Barbarians RFC)
5 - Hayden Smith (Saracens FC)
6 - Louis Stanfill (New York Athletic Club)
7 - Peter Dahl (Belmont Shore RFC)*
8 - Nic Johnson (Denver Barbarians RFC)*
16 - Joe Welch (Belmont Shore)
17 - Matekitonga Moeakiola (Park City Haggis)
18 - Courtney Mackay (Counties Manukau)
19 - J.J. Gagiani (Univ. of Cape Town)
20 - Tim Usasz (Nottingham RFC)*
21 - Ata Malifa (Belmont Shore RFC)*
22 - Alipate Tuilevuka (Provo Steelers)
Not considered due to injury: (5)
Gavin DeBartolo (Eastern Suburbs) Matt Hawkins (Belmont Shore RFC), Valenese Malifa (Belmont Shore RFC), Alec Parker (Gentlemen of Aspen), Rikus Pretorius (Olympic Club Rugby)
Considered but unavailable: (13)
Todd Clever (Golden Lions), Paul Emerick (Overmach Parma), Troy Hall (Old Blue RFC), Brian Lemay (Boston Irish Wolfhounds RFC), Samu Mona (San Francisco Golden Gate RFC), Taku Ngwenya (Biarritz Olympic) Mike Palefau (Las Vegas RFC), Thretton Palamo (San Francisco Golden Gate RFC) Euan Sadden (Old Blue RFC), Kort Schubert (Olympic Club Rugby), Salesi Sika (Castres), Ben Weidemer (Belmont Shore RFC) Matt Wyatt (New York Athletic Club Rugby)
15 - Gavin Duffy (Galwegians/Connacht)
14 - Barry Murphy (U.L. Bohemians/Munster)
13 - Darren Cave (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster)
12 - Ian Whitten (Ballymena/Ulster)
11 - Ian Dowling (Shannon/Munster)
10 - Ian Keatley (Galwegians/Connacht)
9 - Peter Stringer (Shannon/Munster)
1 - Tony Buckley (Shannon/Munster)
2 - Rory Best (Banbridge/Ulster) Captain
3 - Mike Ross (Harlequins)
4 - Bob Casey (London Irish)
5 - Mick O’Driscoll (Cork Constitution/Munster)
6 - John Muldoon (Galwegians/Connacht)
7 - Niall Ronan (Shannon/Munster)
8 - Denis Leamy (Cork Constitution/Munster)
16 - Sean Cronin (Buccaneers/Connacht)*
17 - Tom Court (Malone/Ulster)
18 - Ryan Caldwell (Dungannon/Ulster)
19 - Donnacha Ryan (Shannon/Munster)
20 - Eoin Reddan (London Wasps)
21 - Niall O’Connor (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster)*
22 - Denis Hurley (Cork Constitution/Munster)*
*denotes uncapped player
USA Summer Schedule
USA v Ireland, Sunday, May 31, Buck Shaw Stadium, Santa Clara, CA
USA v Wales, Saturday, June 6, Toyota Park, Bridgeview, IL
USA v Argentina Jaguars, Wednesday, June 10, Infinity Park, Glendale, CO
USA v England Saxons, Sunday, June 14, Infinity Park, Glendale, CO
Churchill Cup Finals, Sunday, June 21, Dicks Sporting Goods Park, Commerce City, CO
2011 Rugby World Cup Qualifiers
USA v Canada, Saturday, July 4, Blackbaud Stadium, Charleston, SC
USA v Canada, Saturday, July 11, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada