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USA "not taking Olympic qualifier lightly"

It's North America's turn to decide their Olympic qualifier this weekend as the United States welcome Trinidad, Mexico, Jamaica, Cayman Island, Bermuda, Badbados and Guyana to North Carolina for NACRA's regional championship. 

Despite the proximity of the opponents they will meet at the NACRA Championships this weekend, there will be largely unknown opposition as far as the United States are concerned this weekend.

The USA have only taken part in this tournament once before, back in 2008 when it doubled as the Sevens World Cup qualifier and they racked up 201 unanswered points in four games against Caribbean opposition on their way to the final, which they lost to Canada in sudden death extra time.

Canada are not in Cary this weekend as they have already qualified for the Olympics and will be wanting to prepare for next months Pan American Games in Toronto, and despite Ric Suggitt’s insistance that he is not taking this lightly he is also resting several of his "A" team, taking the opportunity to introduce some new faces to the Eagles. 

Carmen Farmer and Richelle Stephens in particular will make their sevens debuts this weekend. Farmer was part of the Eagles XVs squad at last summer's World Cup and has been training with the squad since the start of May. 

“[Carmen’s] been a great student of playing sevens,” Suggit said. “Since she’s been here, the length of her pass has really increased. She’s an intelligent athlete. What we need now is to get her game experience. We get simulated game experience at the Training Center but it’s not going to be anything like getting on the field and actually having to play where there’s something of real value.”

Stephens is only 19 but she has already played in an Olympic tournament, representing the USA at the Youth Olympic Games last summer where she so impressed thaht she was invited to carry the flag at the Closing Ceremony. She and nine other Youth Olympians have also been playing for the first ever USA Rugby Girls High School team, which competed in the U19 Elite International tournament at the 2015 Las Vegas Sevens.

“What an honour,” Suggitt said of the fly half’s duties in China. “She’s had a taste of it. Now she’s going to have to shoulder a responsibility; she has some big shoes to fill. She’s been coming out to the Training Centre since she was 15 years old and has been performing quite well at all of the camps. She has really good vision, a good pass, she’s a good kicker, and a great tackler.”

A minor injury to Bui Baravilala in the pre-NACRA Sevens Camp will most likely move Stephens into the starting seven, while Lorrie Clifford, Melissa Fowler, and Dana Meschisi also step up to the team.

The Eagles have have been studying their opponents on what film is available, though even that resource is limited and Suggit insists that he is not taking this event lightly.

“There’s no way in the world that we’re going to send a team there and underestimate who we’re playing against,” he said. “That’s not happening. Rest assured, we’re not taking it lightly. We have good enthusiasm and good leadership inside the group.”

One of the USA's pool opponents will be Barbados where coach Romeo Mayers has indicated that he expects the team to be a force to contend with once certain issues are addressed - that of the the team’s fitness.

“During the recent tour of Trinidad, we realised one of the team’s weaknesses was their fitness. Once this issue is addressed, and as long as they stick to their training, I expect them to do very well,” Mayers, who is also the team’s coach, said. I know they will be playing against professional rugby players, but I still think they have a good chance of doing well at the World Cup Qualifiers.

In an attempt to address the issue ahead of the qualifiers the coach claims that a new fitness programme, which includes a diet, has been introduced to the players.

“We have put them on an entirely different programme to help them improve their fitness,” Mayers said. “We’ve now included some more gym work, a new diet…basically the whole works. Once they stick to this routine there should be a vast improvement from their performance on the tour to Trinidad for sure.”

Another team facing an uphill challenge is Guyana. In the early years of Caribbean women's rugby they were one of the leading teams, but a range of problems - not least being the cost of travel - resulted in the women's team fading away, but now - following the appointment of Women's and Youth Development Officer Petal Adams - they are back on the international circuit even if that meant they had to start from scratch. A practice group of 31 players, some new to the sport, came together at the start of the season and will be hoping to recreate some of the success of the Guyanese teams of the past.

The Cayman Islands have a small player base, but they are one of the best resourced teams in the region with a home series - the Halloween Women's Sevens - at the start of November that attracts players from across the world, allowing the local players to see and play against top class opposition, which will have contributed to their third place in the last NACRA championship in December. Their final preparation have been affected by tropical downpours that flooded their practice facilities, but despite that they will be hoping and expecting to finish in the top four.

The opposition most likely to trouble the United States will be Mexico and Trinidad & Tobago, who have been the leading teams in the Caribbean region for the past 2-3 years. The Mexicans - champions last December - have not lost to any Caribbean team since 2012, when Trinidad beat them. However Jamaica and Bermuda should not be overlooked - they may be too far behind the USA to challenge them, but they would be more than a match for the regions other teams.

USA Squad: 1. Joanne Fa'avesi ; 2. Kelly Griffin ; 3. Kate Zackary ; 4. Alev Kelter ; 5. Dana Meschisi ; 6. Lauren Doyle ; 7. Kristen Thomas ; 8. Richelle Stephens ; 9. Melissa Fowler ; 10. Hannah Lopez ; 11. Lorrie Clifford ; 12. Carmen Farmer 

(We will add other competing squads if and when they are published)

All 53 men's and women's matches, played over two fields, will be streamed live via USA Rugby TV.

Saturday

11:44 am

USA v. Jamaica

Main Stadium

11:44 am

Cayman Islands v. Barbados

Koka Booth Stadium

12:06 pm

Mexico v. Bahamas

Main Stadium

12:06 pm

Trinidad & Tobago v. Guyana

Koka Booth Stadium

2:06 pm

USA v. Barbados

Main Stadium

2:06 pm

Cayman Islands v. Jamaica

Koka Booth Stadium

2:28 pm

Trinidad & Tobago v. Bahamas

Main Stadium

2:28 pm

Mexico v. Guyana

Koka Booth Stadium

4:28 pm

USA v. Cayman Islands

Main Stadium

4:28 pm

Jamaica v. Barbados

Koka Booth Stadium

4:50 pm

Mexico v. Trinidad & Tobago

Main Stadium

4:50 pm

Bahamas v. Guyana

Koka Booth Stadium


Sunday

9:44 am


 

1st place (TBD) v. 8th place (TBD)


 

Main Stadium

9:44 am

4th place (TBD) v. 5th place (TBD)

Koka Booth Stadium

10:06 am

3rd place (TBD) v. 6th place (TBD)

Main Stadium

10:06 am

2nd place (TBD) v. 7th place (TBD)

Koka Booth Stadium

12:29 pm

Cup Semifinal - Match 13 Winner v. Match 15 Winner

Main Stadium

12:29 pm

Plate Semifinal - Match 13 Loser v. Match 15 Loser

Koka Booth Stadium

12:51 pm

Cup Semifinal - Match 14 Winner v. Match 16 Winner

Main Stadium

12:51 pm

Plate Semifinal - Match 14 Loser v. Match 16 Loser

Koka Booth Stadium

2:52 pm

7th Place (TBD)

Main Stadium

3:36 pm

5th Place (TBD)

Main Stadium

4:20 pm

3rd Place (TBD)

Main Stadium

5:04 pm

1st Place (TBD)

Main Stadium