Utah’s top men’s rugby players are making a name for themselves.
Four players with local ties were named to the USA Rugby Eagles’ November tour, which will include a match against rugby powerhouse New Zealand on Nov. 9 in Philadelphia.
Former Utah football and rugby star — and former Copper Hills assistant football coach — John Cullen was named to the team after joining last month’s Americas Rugby Championship roster mid-way through the tournament.
“We wanted to give each of those guys some time of grabbing hold of the leadership position,” Eagles head coach Mike Tolkin said in a USA Rugby news release. “We felt they each did a good job of leading the team and guiding some of the younger guys along. I thought it was a good experience for them.”
Cullen, who was in two NFL camps last summer, worked out with former Utah rugby coach Blake Burdette, who was also included in this Eagles roster — the first time in few years. Burdette, 33, was a member of the Eagles’ 2007 World Cup team.
“Blake brings a lot of experience,” Tolkin said. “He is a great athlete in his own right and that’s why he was an Eagle the first time around. He’s a great player to bring into the front row. It’s nice to have a veteran in there who’s been through it to bring experience and leadership and a real competitive quality he had the first time around.”
Also named to the 33-man roster was Eagles mainstay and former BYU star Shawn Davies. BYU sophomore Kyle Sumsion, who toured with Cullen on USA Rugby’s All-American team in New Zealand this summer, will also be available.
The team, which will assemble in Pennsylvania next week, also plays at Georgia (the country, not the Peach State) on Nov. 16 and against Russia in London on Nov. 23. The game against the All-Blacks is expected to sell out and will be tape-delayed on Fox Sports 1 on Sunday at 10 a.m. (MT).
These games are the Eagles final tune-up before March’s World Cup qualifying agains Uruguay in March.
“Going into this tour, we have more depth,” Tolkin said. “We’d like to get back into winning ways and tag on the back of our performance at the ARC. And we’d like to establish who our top 15 and top 23 are going into the Uruguay playoff.”