Strong start crucial for ambitious USA

(IRB.COM) Sunday 17 June 2012
 Strong start crucial for ambitious USA
USA centre Kingsley McGowan is confident of a winning start against tournament favourites Tonga in the JWRT, which begins in Utah on Monday. Photo: USA Rugby/Jon Eilts

Met with chants of ‘USA, USA’ on his arrival in Salt Lake City, young prospect Kingsley McGowan was struck by the awesome reality that he is about to represent his country in a global tournament.

The highly rated centre arrived in the host city for Junior World Rugby Trophy 2012, with the rest of his team on Thursday evening. But the real action starts at Murray Rugby Park on Monday when USA and pre-tournament favourites Tonga take top billing on day one.

Houston-born McGowan hopes it will be the start of something special for the Stars and Stripes

“I think it’s good that we’ve got Tonga first up because if we beat them we’ll have a lot of momentum going forward,” he said.

“We know it is going to be a very tough game – there aren’t any bad teams here. In our own minds, though, we regard ourselves as favourites. We are a really tight-knit group that believes in each other and the tournament is being played in our home country. I can’t wait to get out there and play against Tonga; it’s going to be great.”

Training with Eagles squad was inspirational

The USA Under 20s enjoyed an inspiring training ground run out against the senior squad in Denver, the morning before their departure to Salt Lake City. For McGowan, it gave him the chance to catch up with role model and fellow centre, Chris Wyles, a veteran of 27 Tests and two Rugby World Cup campaigns for the US Eagles.

“We shared an ice bath, which was pretty cool. Chris is a good example to a young player, like myself, who has aspirations to go abroad and play professionally. He went to England and is doing really well in the English Premiership with Saracens as well as coming back and playing for the Eagles.”

“He was really supportive, as were all the senior guys, and told me to keep my head and to back myself and the coaches.”

A spring tour to Ireland and Wales with his college, St Mary’s in California, which included watching reigning European champions Leinster in action has only served to increase McGowan’s desire to follow in Wyles’s footsteps.

McGowan scored a hat-trick on his Under 20s debut

His all-American playing career certainly could not have got off to a better start after a hat-trick on debut against Canada at the end of last month. The 19-year-old’s side-stepping skills were there for all to see in the build-up to the standout third try, but it is his handling ability that is probably the most remarkable aspect of his play.

McGowan was born with two fingers missing on each hand, the result of amniotic band syndrome – a congenital birth condition that affects roughly one in 1,200 births in the US.

“I’ve dealt with this my whole life so I’ve never known what it is like to have all my fingers. It occasionally causes me problems but it’s just one of those things I’ve learned to deal with,” said the accounting and economics student.

McGowan believes two of his fellow backs, both with experience of the English educational system, could hold the key to a home win for the US. Leeds University’s Will Magie is ready to pull the strings at fly-half, while Maddison Hughes, a former Wellington School pupil, is equally adept at running a game from full-back or wing.

All JWRT matches will be streamed live around the world

“They are like two on-field coaches for us. Both of them know the game really well and bring the best out of those around them,” McGowan explained.

“Will is a crafty guy with ball in hand and he certainly makes life easier for me in the centre. We also have an awesome pack, really hard-nosed and tenacious. Everything you need from a forward pack we’ve got it. It is going to be an exciting tournament for us.”

Japan and Zimbabwe have the honour of getting the action underway in JWRT 2012, swiftly followed by a match between Chile and Russia.

Georgia and Canada are third on the bill before day one concludes with the big one: USA v Tonga.

Live streaming of all matches will take place and will be available globally through local broadcaster KSL at its website