Those who continue to dismiss the United States as a minor rugby nation will do so at their peril, according to the country's Under 20 captain Scott Lavalla.
Lavalla leads out the young Americans in their IRB Junior World Championship opener against South Africa at the Racecourse Ground in Wrexham on Friday and is relishing the chance to step onto the big stage - and prove to the rugby world the USA are ready to join rugby's elite nations.
"I would really like to show the rugby world that USA rugby is emerging and that it's not something that's going to happen 30 years from now - it's happening now and we are making these improvements," insisted Lavalla, who turns 20 on Independence Day.
"Collectively, our expectations are to demonstrate the ability we feel we have. We want to show we can play skilful rugby that a lot of people might not have been expecting from the US.
"A lot of people aren't even aware rugby is played at all in America. Rugby is still a small sport in the United States but it is growing.
"I would like to show we can score points against the best teams and play right up with the best in the world and that's why with the 16-team format we're getting that chance, rather than playing in a lower division against other teams you would not consider big rugby nations."
Lavalla, who plays for Trinity College in Dublin, is a veteran of international age grade tournaments, Wales 2008 being his third after appearances at the IRB Under 19 World Championships in Dubai in 2006 and Belfast in 2007.
"I haven't been considering these [tournaments] as stepping stones, but as an opportunity to play for my country, which is a huge deal and one I've come to appreciate the more I have got to play for my country.
"But it's a World Cup and it's an opportunity to show what you have to the rest of the world. Back in Ireland there's a chance I might get some personal benefit if I play well in this tournament so I am hopeful the right people will be watching me play. But that's secondary.
"I'd like to win at least one game in our pool and we are seeing Scotland and Samoa in particular as the more realistic, competitive games for us. If we could avoid relegation that would also amount to a plus but I think we can finish top 12."
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