CHULA VISTA, Calif. – Madison Hughes will captain the Men's Eagles Sevens in the first two legs of the 2015-16 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series beginning with the Dec. 4-5 Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens in the United Arab Emirates.
Eagles Head Coach Mike Friday's selections for the first Series tournament since the team's Cup Final victory at Marriott London Sevens in May also include 2014-15 regulars Perry Baker, Carlin Isles, Folau Niua, Zack Test, and Maka Unufe.
Additional Series experience on the Eagles roster comes in the form of Kevin Swiryn and Brett Thompson. Thompson signed a professional contract with Edinburgh of the Guinness PRO12 at the end of the 2013-14 Series and was a member of the traveling 13 to North Carolina for this summer's 2015 NACRA Sevens Championships, where the U.S. qualified for the Rio 2016 Olympic Summer Games. Following a bronze-medal campaign at the Toronto 2015 Pan American Games, Thompson was one of five then-Residents to be selected to Rugby World Cup 2015 England.
Swiryn was last seen on the Series in the final round of the 2009-10 season in London, and last wore an Eagles jersey with the 15s team against Australia at Rugby World Cup 2011. After retiring from international play due to injury troubles during his time with Agen in France's Top 14, Swiryn returned to the game with Seattle Saracens in 2013 and has since won two Club 7s National Championships with the Washington-based club.
With injuries keeping Danny Barrett and Matai Leuta out of contention for touring selection and the big forward presence of Andrew Durutalo now signed professionally overseas, Swiryn and Thompson bring reliability and experience to the squad.
"Kevin has integrated well into the group and is working hard with the boys," Friday said. "He has had to play catch-up but his enthusiasm and commitment to learn cannot be faulted.
"Brett has returned looking sharp and fresh and has been training well. I am excited to see Brett in these first two legs because he looks to be back playing with real confidence."
Garrett Bender, who has made 16 appearances on the circuit since debuting in Wellington in 2012, will shore up the forwards alongside Will Holder, Test, and Thompson, as well as Matai Leuta, who returns to the Series after a breakout four tournaments in 2015 before an injury prematurely ended his campaign.
"We started to see Bender come of age at the start of the 2015 season and he is a great aerial player as well as a strong, smart player in the contact area, where his decision-making and technical execution has become so efficient," Friday said.
Friday and the coaching staff were able to watch multiple domestic rugby tournaments between Toronto 2015 and this week's selections in order to streamline the player pool heading into the Olympic year. Assistant Coach Chris Brown attended the Club 7s National Championships and Serevi RugbyTown Sevens, while the coaching staff was able to lead 24 players against international competition at the inaugural Halloween Rugby 7s invitational tournament as the USA Hawks and USA Falcons.
Drawn in Pool C with France, Portugal, and New Zealand in Dubai, the Eagles will look to rectify past struggles they have had in the early goings of the Series. Since the 2011-12 Series, the U.S. has gained a combined 18 points from the first leg compared to 39 from the final leg in the same time span.
Though the U.S. did not finish in the top four of the 2014-15 Series standings – which would have secured automatic qualification for Rio 2016 – the team did beat three of the four over the course of the season. With Rugby Sevens set to make its Olympic debut in fewer than eight months, every nation qualified will have reason to bring out all of the stops to be in peak form by August 2016.
"We have Portugal first up and all our energies will be to perform so we can try to beat them," Friday said. "We will then turn our attention to France, and only then will we focus on New Zealand – and we are all looking forward to taking them on as they are deemed to be one of the best if not the best in the world of sevens along with Fiji and South Africa, and that is what we want to be associated with.
"We are hoping New Zealand brings their 15s stars, such as Sonny Bill Williams and Liam Messam, as, not only will it be great for the game, we can have an early hit-out and test ourselves. We, as always, see ourselves as competitors and will rise to any challenge and believe we have the capability and firepower to win. Every time we take the field you will see a fully-committed Eagles team playing and believing they are capable of winning."
The Eagles will kick off their 2015-16 season against Portugal at 7he Sevens in Dubai Friday, Dec. 4, at 1:52 a.m. ET. U.S. broadcast details for the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series are still being confirmed, and live match updates will be provided on Twitter by @USARugby.
Men's Eagles Sevens | Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens / HSBC Cape Town Sevens
- Carlin Isles
- Matai Leuta
- Brett Thompson
- Garrett Bender
- Zack Test
- Kevin Swiryn
- Folau Niua
- Maka Unufe
- Nate Augspurger
- Madison Hughes
- Perry Baker
- Will Holder